The Ansel Adams Exhibition has opened in the Modern Art Oxford (MAO), UK, from 2nd April. I went there during my lunch break on the very first day. Here is a quick proto-review: 1. There are (about) 75 original prints of photographs taken by Adams, starting from the early 1920s, and spread around chronologically on the walls of three rooms, ending with a full portrait of Adams. Most of the photos are my guess either A3 or A4 in size, bearing his signature in pencil on the right hand corner of the frame. 2. The best of the show are a. Dawn Autumn, 1948 b. Clearing storm, 1951: a misty mystic shot c. Redwoods, 1960: plain vertical trees, absolutely simple and beautiful, you wonder, May be I can also do it, but why didnt I do this before? d. Mount Mckinley and Wonder, 1947: a magisterial vista e. Sand dunes, 1948: approaches to an abstract form, with black and white and a brief tonal gradation in between. f. Tetons and Snake River, 1942: master , classic one . This had to be there. But I wonder why did they put in one corner and some charm is lost in the process. g. Moonrise, Hernandez, 1941. Next time I know I can keep 2/3 of the frame completely dark and have the lit up subjects on the rest. It works. I wont follow the balance the weight rule. h. Dogwood, 1938. Observe the highlight details. Simplicity of the composition comes through, a primer in pattern/arrangement and texture. i. Winter sunrise, 1944. Superb theatrical lighting, adding drama. Adams was either too patient or just lucky. j. Moon and Half Dome, everyone likes, except me. 3. I think, gleaning from the exhibition, that Adams was at his best in between 1930-1967. 4. The early period covers his expedition to (Taos) New Mexico, and this phase is strongly influenced by Alfred Steiglitzs artist approach. The first photograph of the exhibition is the only one where Adams experimented with soft focus, etching, etc. 5. After this brief period, there is a strong influence of cubism. I detected this first and then this was confirmed by the blurb on the exhibition, which informs the viewers that Adams was influenced by the post-cubists like Andrew Dasburg and John Marin, with especial emphasis on the geometric interpretation of form. The 1929 photo of Winnowing Grain is a good example. 6. Later, Adams was influenced by Paul Strand, and hereafter, one sees the use of sharp and deep focus and more realistic approach to the world. This seems to me is correlated to the beginning of the deep focus movement in cinema. 7. There is a steady development in his style, retaining the residues of influences by others in his career: eye for forms, realism, and emphasis on the darkroom craftsmanship to overcome the allegation that photography is a mechanical output, hence not art. 8. The study of form remains constant, only technique changes. 9. At times, he pushed formalism too far, resulting, in my view, unpleasant photos, example, Grass and Pool, 1935. 10. I am no expert on Adams and have never read any quality book or article on him. But looking at those original prints, I now know where does this zone system come from. It was definitely inspired by Stieglitzs equivalent approach: try to portray, transfer and re-create the feeling you had (i.e. the subjective dimension) while taking the photograph. But how do you do that? How do you record that and more importantly translate that which is nothing but patches of darkness and brightness? Enter zone system: assign values to each patch and try to create equivalence between what you saw and your final print. A standard system emerges. 11. This is all very good: but I guess the problem remains on the emphasis on feeling rather than meaning and ideology. A pure aesthetics with out politics, or a naïve politics, or worse, aesthetisation of politics. Adamss photos of nature are devoid of human beings, nature is wild and uninhabited a space for escapism, a form of idealism. This is a dangerous vision for environmental politics which I study for my doctoral degree it advocates conservation of nature without providing any space for human beings. For this vision, human beings are antithetical to nature. The world has seen many such efforts of purging human beings from the natural habitat; Masais of Kenya are one such victim. My favourite photographer is Sebastiao Salgado; he never talks about zone system, though he retains the graphical elements of B&W photography, without subjecting everything to a formal study. There will be a talk on Adamss landscape photography on 9th April, 6.30pm onwards at MAO.