Ansel Adams: the Man Who Made the Earth Cool

IT’S THE 1ST FRIDAY OF THE NEW MONTH, so let’s shake it up a bit. Since we gotta keep you on your toes, this week’s DTC doesn’t come in the form of a musician. “Whaaaat??” Hey, we told y’all at the beginning we wouldn’t just talk about music we fuck with, this should come as no surprise. Anyhow… I’m very excited to introduce Ansel Adams, arguably the most famous American landscape and black and white photographer.

Gotta give my mom a shout out for this one, she introduced me to Adams’ work in my teenage years. And got damn I’m happy she did. I’ve been a fan for a while, so when an exhibit featuring his work came to the Boston MFA winter 2018, I knew it was one I couldn’t miss. As an extremely amateur photographer (shameless plug), I’ve always had some small appreciation for black and white photography. Then I saw full-blown Ansel Adams pictures and well, this exhibit changed all that. From his work, I got a feeling that I’ve never felt from color photos in my life. That day, seeing his pictures in person, I realized I found a photographer who managed to capture not what the camera saw, and not even what his eyes saw, but what his brain and his heart saw. Color photographers can get close, but by utilizing black and white film, Adams’ work attains a level of sheer rawness that’s impossible to be reached from another form.

Photography wise, Adams is most well-known for his landscape shots of the American West. In much of his work, Adams manages to juxtapose the most enormous earthly elements with the most minute. Taking advantage of the mountain ranges in this region was an ingenious solution for portraying this aspect of the Earth’s beauty. By using this method, his work makes the world appear slightly terrifying while also ensuring the viewer will want to, no -- need to, explore it for him or herself.

Outside of simply taking pictures, Adams was integral to the total art form. Not only did the dude help create the photography department at NYC’s MoMA, but he also developed a whole photographic process on his own (well okay, he did have help from portrait photographer Fred Archer, but you get the point). Called the “Zone System,” Adams’ new system was essentially used for determining how to expose and develop film to achieve the desired brightness or darkness. While not entirely applicable to digital photography, Adams’ system changed the game for the black and white film photographers of his time. And yet despite all the success he found, possibly the most rewarding achievements from his life came from his work in environmentalism. Through his photography, Adams was able to show the country the importance our environment holds, helping to establish national parks around the American West. As a nice little recognition for his work in conservationism, in 1980, Adams received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from some guy named Jimmy Carter.

Photography really is an amazing medium. When you think about the bare minimum of what it is, it’s simply saving a single snapshot from history. And yet, it’s infinitely more impactful than that, if the photographer allows it. Ansel Adams’ influence is unrivaled - he was one of the few early photographers to show the world taking a picture can mean so much more than capturing a moment in time, it can truly be art. While many artists, such as painters, aim to evoke feelings from their work, photographers look to tell a story. Throughout his career, Adams told the story of the planet we’re lucky enough to call our home, forever changing the lives of the people his work touched and the ecosystems he fought so hard to defend.

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