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