This book is the official catalog for the traveling show in honor of Ansel Adams' birth in 1902 that opened in San Francisco and traveled through Chicago, London, Berlin, and Los Angeles before closing in New York late in 2003. I cannot remember a finer catalog for a photography show.
The show's images were selected by John Szarkowski who is the director emeritus of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art. In selecting images for the show, he emphasized both what he thought was Ansel Adams' finest work, and his work that looked best in printed form. So the images provide room for an outstanding reproduction, and that's just what the book's publishers have provided.
The edition itself comes linen bound and in a matching linen slip cover. The pages are all of the highest quality heavy cover stock. The tritone printing is exquisite, limited only by the negatives and the current state-of-the art in printing. There is also a superb design. The works are sized to be in proportion to each others' negatives. Where images play off of each other, they are placed next to one another or on facing pages. Where that sort of conversation isn't possible, you see one image per two open pages. Unlike most of Ansel Adams' books, this one is on oversized pages so that there is the possibility of seeing the details as Mr. Adams intended them to be seen.
A nice bonus is that each book comes with a frameable tritone 13" X 11" print on heavy cover stock with fascimile signature by Ansel Adams and a blind embossed seal of the Ansel Adams Trust of Aspens, Dawn, Dolores River Canyon, Colorado, 1937 . . . which is also reproduced in the book. It is the image of aspens that you probably know best from Mr. Adams' work.
The essay focuses on two things: (1) The question of whether the photographer brings order to nature (as Edward Weston suggested) or simply sift its out (like gold dust from gravel in a stream) as Ansel Adams seems to have done. (2) A brief biography of Ansel Adams emphasizes his life as an art photographer and his early parallel interest in piano. Since the book is for a show, it would be inappropriate to try to cover much more. I was disappointed, however, that more of Mr. Adams' many letters were not included.
The main drawbacks of this book for most people will be that it is selective and narrow in focus. Many people will mistakenly think that this book is intended to be the ultimate biography and reproduction of his photographs. That work remains to be done. I shiver to think what that will cost us to purchase! You will get a taste of his many different nature and landscape shots, but not all of your old favorites or as many of any type as you would probably like. You will also yearn, if you are like me, for an essay that paid more attention to his efforts in conservation.
Of the 114 plates in the book, I found 27 to be outstanding to an extraordinary degree for my taste. Not surprisingly, seven were from Yosemite, and six from the Sierra Nevadas. A number of others were of mountain scenes. To me, Mr. Adams captures the spiritual connection of mountains, sky, and water in an unusually transcendant way. But his focused works of grass and leaves on water, dead trees, solitary trees, rocks, and sections of rock formations are equally intriguing and spiritual, just in a different way. Space does not permit me to cite all of these images by name. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of my favorites in the book were new to me, even though I have read every Ansel Adams book I can find.
The exquisite details in these works overwhelm you with the sense of how much complexity is woven together into our natural world, and how seldom we take a moment to absorb every iota of it.
After you finish enjoying this fine work, I suggest that you think about where you find spirituality in your life. What places? What times? How do you capture and keep that feeling with you?
Touch God in new ways . . . all the time.
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