ALL ARTS Vault Selects


Ansel Adams: Photography As An Art

Take a dive into the ALL ARTS Vault as Ansel Adams, in striking voice over, reflects on his artistic and philosophical preoccupations, as well as his relationship with the photographers who have influenced him. You’ll watch and listen as Adams meditates on the inspiration he pulls from the “primal gestures” of the Yosemite Valley, firmly juxtaposed with the urban landscape of San Francisco.

AIRED: December 29, 2019 | 0:32:00


Welcome to the "All ARTS Vault."

I'm Shanelle Gabriel.

"The Vault" is the place to go for special access

to all things arts, so we're going into the archives

to uncover some of our greatest gems

and share these programs with you

as they would've been seen decades ago

when they first aired.

Today, we're presenting the final part

in our five-part series from 1960,

featuring American photographer Ansel Adams.

In this episode title "Photography As an Art,"

Adams, in striking voice-over,

reflects on his artistic and philosophical preoccupations

as well as his relationship with the photographers

who have influenced him.

You will watch and listen as Adams meditates

on the inspiration he pulls from the primal gestures

of the Yosemite Valley

firmly juxtaposed with the urban landscape of San Francisco.

Adams speaks about using art

as an opportunity for revelation,

to touch the conscious mind and clear the vision,

and you'll see several original works by Adams

that do just that.

Take notice of Adams' use of natural light

and how he can turn a natural landscape

into an almost abstract expression of space and forms.

"Wilderness is largely a state of mind," Adams says.

"The material aspects of the world,

the rocks, the trees, the air are but symbols."

We hope you consider these words

as you view Adams' incredible images.






Narrator: Ansel Adams' photography

reflects his environment --

San Francisco, where he was born;

the High Sierra,


Most famous for his landscapes full of space and light,

Ansel Adams has combined creative

and professional photography

on the highest level of awareness and craftsmanship.

Musician, teacher, writer, and conservationist,

Ansel Adams' work has been modulated by what he calls,

"the great Earth-gesture of the Sierra."

Many people using a camera

bypass their natural environment.

He does not.

The roots of his development are basically naturalistic.

Adams: To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see

beneath the surface

and record the qualities of nature and humanity,

which live or are latent in all things.

Elemental nature must be approached

with a reverential lens.

The grand landscapes and the blade of grass

appear with equal eloquence.

Expression is not enough.

Design, style, technique -- These, too, are not enough.

Art must reach further than self-expression.

"Art," said Alfred Stieglitz,

"is the affirmation of life,

and life, all its eternal evidence,

is everywhere."

I first came to Yosemite Valley with my family in 1916,

and I have not missed a single year since then.

Every year has been an extraordinary experience,

and as time goes on,

this experience becomes more penetrating

and more related to the world at large.

My work has always been associated with Yosemite.

It has become the wealth and worth of my whole being,

but this experience has never met isolation.

On the contrary, the infinitely varied photographic problems

of Yosemite have helped to develop my techniques

and deepen my perception.



Narrator: The Adams' home in Yosemite

was built in 1926 by Virginia Adams' father,

a painter and music lover.

Here, the Adams children grew up.

Ansel Adams worked on his music

and began his photographic career.

Here, Virginia Adams is a gracious hostess

to a never-ending stream of friends

and a partner in her husband's many ventures.

The imprint of her personality

is in evidence throughout the house.




Adams: Some photographers take reality as the sculptor

takes wood or stone

and upon it impose the dominations of their own

thought and spirit.

Other come before reality more tenderly.

A photograph, to them,

is an instrument of love and revelation.

A true photograph need not be explained,

nor can it be contained in words.

Narrator: The photographic image is visualized

at the moment of exposure.

It finds expression only in the final print.

Since nonphotographic processes cannot fully duplicate the range

and subtleties of the expressive print,

Ansel Adams has, from time to time,

issued limited editions of original photographs

in portfolio form.

Adams: Expressions without doctrine,

my photographs are presented as ends in themselves.

The grandeurs and intimacies of nature will,

I hope, encourage the spectator to seek for himself

the inexhaustible sources of beauty

in the natural world around him.

Fortunate is he, indeed, who can see Mount McKinley

against the summer midnight sky...

...the lush fern forest of Kilauea...

...the white jubilance of Yosemite's waters...

...and the somber Atlantic rock and surf of Acadia.

But perhaps in his own garden,

even in a flowerpot on a windowsill,

a single leaf turned to the sun

will hint of the revelation of nature

so grandly expressed in the domains of the national parks.


Perhaps the dominant quality of Yosemite in autumn

is the remarkable character of the light.

The summer haze seems to have dissipated.

The light is soft and yet decisive.


The waterfalls have reduced to almost total extinction.

The river is low.

The autumn foliage in the valley

acquires an extraordinary luminosity,

and there's a certain mood of expectancy in the air,

suggesting the imminence of the coming winter storms.


I believe that wilderness is largely a state of mind.

The material aspects of the world,

the rocks, the trees and the air, are but symbols.

As Nancy Newhall wrote in "This Is the American Earth,"

"The wilderness holds for us more answers than we know yet

how to ask."



We are now sufficiently advanced to consider resources

other than materialistic, but they are tenuous, intangible

and vulnerable to misapplication.

They are, in fact, symbols of a spiritual life,

a vast impersonal pantheism, transcending the confused myths

that are presumed to clarify ethical and moral conduct.

The clear realities of nature seen with the inner eye

of the spirit reveal the ultimate echo of God.

If the domains of both nature and art

have strongly influenced our culture,

why can we not bring them into more definite association?

In my own experience here in Yosemite,

I find that there are many who approach the opportunity

of hearing great music with almost religious devotion,

for there is always great magic

in the mingling of the emotional experience of nature

and with the aesthetic experience of art.





























Narrator: Ansel Adams' affinity with nature

has never met withdrawal from contemporary life.

He is equally at home in Yosemite

and in the city of San Francisco where he was born, studied music

and does much of his work.

Even in the city, the objects that surround Ansel Adams

reflect his affinity with the natural scene

and with the works of artists and craftsmen

who are deeply rooted in their native surroundings.

The Adams' homes have always been a gathering place

for artists, conservationist, musicians, and students.

Adams: My approach to teaching is, I am sure, quite unorthodox.

I think of teaching as far more than the mere conveyance

of facts and methods.

It is a matter of taking the student

into one's confidence time and again

and making it possible for him to reciprocate.

The student must feel that he, together with you,

is making a great exploration into the world of creation.

Perhaps Kahlil Gibran in his noble work "The Prophet"

has given the most penetrating definition of the ideal teacher.

"The teacher, if he be indeed wise,

does not bid you into the house of his wisdom

but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind."

Narrator: Many young photographers have studied

with Ansel Adams...

Gerry Sharpe...

...Pirkle Jones...

...Philip Greene...

...Don Worth.

It is no mere coincidence

that Ansel Adams' discussions of photography

often revolve around such terms as composition, tonal values,

the negative as a score and the finished print as a performance.

Adams: An art is definable only in its own terms.

It is as difficult to speak about photography

as it is about music.

Penetrating the smoke screen of equipment and techniques,

the art of photography appears as strong and vital

as any other creative medium.

As Wilenski once put it,

"All art is the expression of the same thing."























Narrator: Being an artist need not interfere

with professional assignments.

Rather, the artist doing professional work

can draw on his subconscious for the perception necessary

to do an imaginative job without gimmicks.

Photography is only as honest or dishonest

as the photographer himself.

His subconscious is constantly at work.

When it comes into phase without the outside world,

a statement is made.




A fine portrait is more than a mere likeness.

Ansel Adams' concept of environmental portraiture

creates symbolic values directly related to his appraisal

of the subject's character.

The approach can be literal --

an architect surrounded by his blueprints.

Or the artist can use more subtle means

of characterization.

Even those unfamiliar with Clarence Kennedy's photography

of Renaissance sculpture cannot fail to sense his style

when confronted with this portrait,

which is so subtly in tune with Kennedy's own work.

Ansel Adams has always been conscious of his work

in relationship to other photographers.

Adams: Throughout the short history of photography,

there have been very few really great photographers

practicing anywhere.

Paul Strand represented a great influence on my work,

the first great influence of my career.

I met Paul Strand first in New Mexico,

either in 1929 or 1930.

One day in Paul's studio,

he showed me quite a few of his 4-by-5 negatives,

and they were a complete revelation.

I had never before seen photographs

of this simple direct clarity,

and the negatives themselves were so beautiful

that it was almost unnecessary to visualize the final print.

Paul Strand is, of course,

one of the very greatest artists of our time

and without doubt one of the greatest printers

in all the history of photography.

This mailbox belonged to a great and unassuming man.

I first met Edward Weston in the studio of Albert Bender

in San Francisco.

I think it was about 1928.

This was the beginning of a long friendship,

which reached into many corridors of experience.

There were many visits in our homes,

trips to the mountains, Carmel, Yosemite, and San Francisco.

Edward Weston's work is one of the unique

creative monuments of our time.

In some strange way,

destiny contrived to bring Edward Weston

and his work together in a world greatly

in need of clarification and simplicity.

I felt met Alfred Stieglitz in New York in 1933.

The experience was a tremendous one for me.

It opened up not only vast perspectives in photography

but concepts and ideas relating to the entire world of art.

To Alfred Stieglitz, the only thing that mattered

was the sun and the earth and growing things

and what these things were in relation to humanity.

The agony of humanity was in direct correlation

to humanity's separation from the truth and from nature.

People were as growing things just like trees,

historic periods upon the topography of time.

He believed that the expressive potential of man is timeless

and that those who self-consciously strive

for mere contemporary expression

are dated and sterile from the start.

He claimed that the tragedy of America lies in

her exploitation of nature and of the human potential.

His attitude was the obverse of conceit.

It was an attitude of responsibility and humility

in the largest sense.

He was a dower prophet to those who believed

that something is better than nothing

but was a luminous guiding spirit

to those who had faith in the potentials of our land

and our people, who work and build

from within the limitless resources of the spirit.

Narrator: The artist must contemplate all things

and all of nature's changes in order to gain

a sense of the permanent and the significant.

Ansel Adams' work always leads him back to nature,

a fountain of basic inspiration for the artist.

Adams: The dawn wind of the High Sierra

is not just a passage of cool air through forest conifers,

but within the labyrinth of human consciousness

becomes a stirring of some world magic

of most delicate persuasion.

The grand lift of the Tetons is more than a mechanistic fold

and falling of the earth's crust.

It becomes a primal gesture of the earth

beneath a greater sky...

...and on the ancient Acadian Coast,

and even more ancient Atlantic surge

dispute the granite headlands

with more than the slow crumbling erosion of the sea.

Here are forces familiar with the eons of creation.

Our time is short and the future terrifyingly long.

Believing as we must that things of the heart and mind

are most enduring,

this is the opportunity to apply art

as a potent instrument of revelation,

of touching the conscience and clearing the vision.





















Narrator: This is National Educational Television.

"A true photograph need not be explained,

nor can it be contained in words."

This, from Ansel Adams,

so effectively sums up the monumental beauty of his work.

It's simply impossible to try

and put into words how Adams documents,

"the revelations of nature," as he calls it.

Adams' ability to take the natural and urban landscape

and capture the pure beauty of its form, structure and light

is nearly unrivaled in American photography.

We hope you enjoyed this peek into the mind

and photographs of Ansel Adams.

See you next time on the "All ARTS Vault."


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