Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs - Review by Todd Henson

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Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs is a beautiful collection of Adams’ work. The book was created through The Ansel Adams Trust, in collaboration with Little, Brown and Company. The photographs were chosen by Andrea G. Stillman, Adams’ longtime assistant, and represent those she feels constitute his most significant work. The book is organized roughly by decade, with the following major sections:

  • 1916-1930 Yosemite and the High Sierra

  • 1931-1939 Group f/64 and Alfred Stieglitz

  • 1940-1949 National Parks and Monuments

  • 1950-1959 Conservation, Publications, and Commissions

  • 1960-1968 Carmel

  • Notes on Selected Photographs

Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs - Page 52-53

I really like this book. I’ve always admired Ansel Adams’ work, how he captured such amazing scenes in such great light, and how he would finish realizing his vision for each photograph in the darkroom. But I didn’t really have any books of his photographs. I thought this would be the perfect first step at solving that problem.

Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs - Page 90-91
Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs - Page 126-127

The book contains a great variety of Ansel Adams’ work. We get to see some of his very first photographs, and how he began just recording what he saw, creating a “visual diary” of his travels. But as you flip through the pages of photographs you can see how they change over time, how Adams begins to develop a better sense of composition, and how the photographs change from simple records of his travels to art work worthy of display.

Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs - Page 132-133
Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs - Page 174-175

Ansel Adams first visited Yosemite National Park in 1916. He would later say, “I knew my destiny when I first experienced Yosemite!” And by 1930 he began down the road to realizing his destiny, choosing to become a full time photographer instead of pursuing a career as a pianist. I found it fascinating that Adams was skilled not just in the visual arts, but also in music. Somehow, it seems appropriate.

As much as I love the photographs in this book, one of my favorite sections are the notes at the end of the book. There are notes associated with many of the photographs, sometimes using Adams’ own words to describe the photo or the experience. It is here we read quotes such as the following, in a letter from 1937 to Alfred Stieglitz: “I think I am getting some very good things — quite different, I believe. I like to think of my present stuff as more subtle, more lifting-up-the-lid, if you know what I mean . . . . Perhaps I am on the edge of making a really good photograph.

Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs - Page 230-231
Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs - Page 404-405

I highly recommend the book, Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs. I think there is much that can be learned from studying these photographs, seeing how Adams grew and developed as a photographer over the years. I also think this is a beautiful book for those who simply want a collection of Adams’ work to admire. There are many times I pull out the book and just flip through the pages. No matter what mood I’m in I’ll always be in a better one after spending a little time appreciating Adams’ work.

At one with the power of the American landscape, and renowned for the patient skill and timeless beauty of his work, photographer Ansel Adams has been visionary in his efforts to preserve the country’s wild and scenic areas, both on film and on Earth. Drawn to the beauty of nature’s monuments, he is regarded by environmentalists as a monument himself, and by photographers as a national institution. It is through his foresight and fortitude that so much of America has been saved for future Americans.
— President Jimmy Carter, who conferred upon Adams the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art by Todd Henson

Garden entrance to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is located in Washington, D.C., along the National Mall and just across from the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. These two museums are separated by a beautiful outdoor garden and share a very similar look to their exterior architecture. The majority of each museum is located below ground, and the two museums actually connect to one another through a lower-level hallway.

Beautiful stairwell in the National Museum of African Art

I love all of the Smithsonian museums I’ve had the pleasure to visit. Not only do they each contain amazing works of art, culture, or engineering, they also were built by very creative architects. There are so many fantastic elements to these buildings, and the National Museum of African Art is no different. I was drawn to one of the stairwells, lit from a skylight overhead and from an entryway above.

Contact by Nandipha Mntambo, viewed through an entryway

This museum contained artwork and cultural items from all over the African continent. Some were very old relics and others were more modern works of art. The piece that most stood out for me this trip was titled Contact, created by Nandipha Mntambo from Swaziland. It’s a sculpture cast from the artist’s body and covered in cowhide and cow hooves, and was inspired by a ship’s figurehead. The piece is beautifully displayed on a dark brown wall, with spotlights highlighting the artwork. I first viewed the piece through an entryway from another part of the museum, and I was immediately transfixed by this piece. Something about it spoke to me.

Contact by Nandipha Mntambo, displayed in the National Museum of African Art

We walked through several other rooms full of interesting and beautiful pieces. Below are images from some of the ones I was most drawn to.

Crest Mask, part of the Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection at the National Museum of African Art

The Crest Mask is part of the Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection, which is a current highlight of the museum.

Ethiopian shield made from leather and silver alloy

I’ve always been drawn to arms and armor from different cultures and times, so I was pulled in by the Ethiopian shield made from leather and silver alloy. It’s an amazing piece.

Silver coffee pot from the Sultanate of Oman

I loved the details and the shapes of the silver coffee pot from the Sultanate of Oman.

Swahili chest from Tanzania

Ornate Swaili chest from Tanzania

Swahili door and frame from Tanzania

In the corner of one gallery hall were an ornate chest displayed in front of a door in its frame. These were both Swahili pieces from Tanzania. I was fascinated by the details and the craftsmanship.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is a fantastic museum. I highly recommend you visit if you have the opportunity. These Smithsonian museums really are a treasure, one I hope to revisit many times. Have you ever visiting the National Museum of African Art? Which pieces were you most drawn to?

CreativeLive's Create Art Through Photography with Art Wolfe by Todd Henson

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

Create Art Through Photography with Art Wolfe. Image credit: CreativeLive

Create Art Through Photography with Art Wolfe. Image credit: CreativeLive

Do you ever find yourself looking for inspiration? Do you find yourself falling into the same ruts, creating the same photographs over and over? Would you like someone with passion and creativity to help guide you out of the ruts and help you see the world in different ways, help you seek out and create something new, something abstract and artistic? Art Wolfe may be just the person to help, and his CreativeLive class, Create Art Through Photography, may be just the class to start you down a new path.

Create Art Through Photography is all about seeing the world in new ways. It’s about studying art in all its many forms, visiting museums or surfing the web, viewing paintings and drawings by the masters. Study what has come before, learn to see the different patterns, textures, and lines that draw you into the artwork. And then go out into the world, into nature, and look for these same things. You will find them. The world is full of compelling abstract compositions just waiting for a photographer with the right eye to find it and create a beautiful photograph to share with the rest of the world.

Art starts out the class stepping you through his history, what led him to where he is today. He began as a painter, but eventually embraced photography. He has always loved the outdoors, and would spend much of his time hiking and climbing through woods and mountains. Through photography he found opportunities to travel, to see different cultures. He was drawn to different cultures and became passionate about documenting them before they disappeared. He loves wildlife and has spent much of his career traveling the world and photographing animals of all sorts. If you’ve already watched his previous class, The Art of Nature Photography, then some of this section may already be familiar to you. In the beginning of both classes he goes over his history for those who are not familiar with it.

Through his life, Art has continued to stretch himself artistically. He is always looking for something new to photograph, and for new ways to photograph. New technology has opened up new possibilities, giving him the opportunity to explore photographs that never would have been possible in the past. Art embraces these possibilities.

But he has also explored different subjects, or the same subjects in different ways. Over the years, Art has spent more time looking for the smaller, more intimate landscapes. He has created the large sweeping iconic shots, but he also strives to find the more subtle, less photographed shots.

This class explores the world of the abstract, images where we may not recognize the subject of the photograph. These are abstract expressionist photographs, more akin to the artwork of the great painters. Think Mark Rothko, Piet Mondrian, Jasper Johns, Kazimir Malevich, M.C. Escher.

Art discusses the concept of Wabi Sabi, a Japanese term referencing the randomness and impermanence of nature. It’s about balance, and filling the frame with content so your eyes can navigate through it. He says there is so much potential out there, that we should try to see in ways we don’t normally see. It can take time, but we can train ourselves to do this, to see patterns, textures, and lines, and to capture these in abstract compositions.

Visit museums to help maintain inspiration. Art mines the work of abstract expressionist painters, finding new ways to photograph landscapes. It helps him see subjects he might not have considered years ago. Study artists work, then go out into the world and see what you can find that reminds you of their work. It’s not about copying the work of others, but drawing inspiration from it.

Over time this will become natural and will shape the way you see the world around you. You’ll walk around town visiting locations most photographers never visit. You’ll find compositions most other people would overlook. You can do this in town or out in nature. There are subjects everywhere. Look for line, color, distortion, ambiguity. Art says this is creating metaphors through photography.

In the final section of the class, Art looks through photographs submitted by students. He critiques their composition and brings them into Lightroom to show how he might approach editing the work. I really enjoyed seeing how Art approaches this process, taking the raw file and turning it into something more. You can’t make a bad photograph great this way, but you can bring out the detail and wonder you visualized when snapping the shutter. I think there’s always something of value to be taken from these types of critique sessions.

I was pleased with my purchase of this class, even though I was familiar with some of the content both through a previous class I purchased (The Art of Nature Photography) and through a live presentation I was fortune to attend. Art considers this class an appetizer for the Photography As Art seminar he teaches in various locations. If you have the opportunity try to attend one of his live seminars. If you’re unable to attend a live seminar, or if you just want to own the videos to watch again and again, then consider this class.

Create Art Through Photography consists of 16 videos totaling about 5 hours of content. It also includes a 150 page ebook, titled On Puget Sound, that is absolutely full of beautiful images by Art Wolfe. When you purchase the course you’re given the ability to download all the videos to your computer or mobile device to watch offline anytime. You can also stream the content from CreativeLive’s website.

If you feel you’re in a rut and are looking for something to help push you forward, give Create Art Through Photography a try. Art Wolfe is a passionate photographer and teacher, and he can help you see the world in new ways.