ansel adams

Ansel Adams: Classic Images by Todd Henson

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Cover of  Ansel Adams: Classic Images

Cover of Ansel Adams: Classic Images

Ansel Adams: Classic Images is a classic Ansel Adams photo book. It contains 75 plates, all of photographs chosen by Ansel to represent his best work and intended to be shown as exhibitions in museums.

The book includes a short introduction by John Szarkowski and an excellent essay, titled Ansel Adams, American Artist, by James Alinder. The essay is a biography of Ansel’s life exploring how he became the quintessential American landscape photographer of his time. Following the photographic plates, which are all one per page, is a list of the plates and a chronology of important events in Ansel’s life.

Ansel Adams: Classic Images , plates 4-5: Winnowing Grains, Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, 1929 & Saint Francis Church, Rancos de Taos, New Mexico, 1929

Ansel Adams: Classic Images, plates 4-5: Winnowing Grains, Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, 1929 & Saint Francis Church, Rancos de Taos, New Mexico, 1929

I was curious what the differences were in the photographs in this book, chosen by Ansel, and those in Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs, chosen by Andrea G. Stillman, who worked as Ansel’s assistant. Obviously, 400 Photographs contains far more photographs than does Classic Images. But does it contain everything in Classic Images and is there any point in owning this book versus that one?

Ansel Adams: Classic Images , plates 14-15: Georgia O’Keefe and Orville Cox, Cnayon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1937 & Ghost Ranch Hills, Chama Valley, Northern New Mexico, 1937

Ansel Adams: Classic Images, plates 14-15: Georgia O’Keefe and Orville Cox, Cnayon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1937 & Ghost Ranch Hills, Chama Valley, Northern New Mexico, 1937

As it happens there are 13 photographs in Classic Images that do not appear in 400 Photographs:

  • Plate 6: Juniper Tree Detail, Sequoia National Park, California, c. 1927

  • Plate 17: Spanish American Woman, near Chimayo, New Mexico, 1937

  • Plate 23: Vernal Fall, Yosemite Valley, California, c. 1948

  • Plate 31: Pool, Acoja Pueblo, New Mexico, c. 1942

  • Plate 41: Mrs. Gunn on Porch, Independence, California, 1944

  • Plate 43: Dune, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, c. 1942

  • Plate 51: Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, c. 1942

  • Plate 59: Penitente Morada, Coyote, New Mexico, c. 1950

  • Plate 60: Church and Road, Bodega, California, c. 1953

  • Plate 61: Buddhist Grave Markers and Rainbow, Maui, Hawaii, c. 1956

  • Plate 62: Manly Beacon, Death Valley National Monument, California, c. 1952

  • Plate 66: White Mountain Range, Thunderclouds, from the Buttermilk County, near Bishop, California, 1959

  • Plate 71: Trees, Slide Lake, Grand Teton National Park, c. 1965

Ansel Adams: Classic Images , plates 34-35: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1942 & The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942

Ansel Adams: Classic Images, plates 34-35: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1942 & The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942

Fascinatingly, some of the photographs that appear in both look different. In some cases this may be due simply to differences in printing. But in some cases I wonder if it may be different versions of the same photo? Ansel is known to have reprocessed some images throughout the years, and there could be examples of this in these books.

Ansel Adams: Classic Images , plates 46-47: Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, California, 1944 & Tenaya Creek, Dogwood, Rain, Yosemite National Park, California, 1948

Ansel Adams: Classic Images, plates 46-47: Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, California, 1944 & Tenaya Creek, Dogwood, Rain, Yosemite National Park, California, 1948

So is Ansel Adams: Classic Images worth seeking out if you already own Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs? I may be biased, as I did purchase both, but I believe the answer is yes if you are enough of a fan of Ansel’s work. There are photos in Classic Images that don’t appear in 400 Photographs. And Classic Images has the essay by James Alinder, which I very much enjoyed.

Ansel Adams: Classic Images , plates 60-61: Church and Road, Bodega, California, 1953 & Buddhist Grave Markers and Rainbow, Maui, Hawaii, 1956

Ansel Adams: Classic Images, plates 60-61: Church and Road, Bodega, California, 1953 & Buddhist Grave Markers and Rainbow, Maui, Hawaii, 1956

However, if you are looking for a single book that shows a broad range of Ansel Adams work, I would recommend Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs. It has a much broader range of material. The plates in both books are of similar size. Some are larger in one, some larger in the other, but they are mostly comparable.

In the end I don’t think you can go wrong with either book. They are both excellent representations of Ansel’s work.


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