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.
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,
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...
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
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
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."