Ansel Adams, Yosemite and the High Sierra - First Impressions

Discussion in 'Book, Magazine, Gallery Reviews, Shows & Contests' started by andrew.roos, May 15, 2012.

  1. andrew.roos

    andrew.roos Subscriber

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    Today I received my copy of Yosemite and the High Sierra, a book of Ansel Adams photographs edited by Andrea Stillman and published by Little, Brown and Company. This is my first Adams portfolio, although I do also have Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs.

    The book starts with an introduction by John Szarkowski, which takes the form of a 17 page essay about the place of landscape photography and painting in the history of art, the relationship of Adams to Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, and the progression of his artistic vision from the "private, lyrical and classical" early works to a "public, epic and declamatory" later style. Although the essay is not light reading I (somewhat to my surprise) found it worth persevering.

    The portfolio consists of 75 plates. The first five, which are placed before the introduction as an extended frontispiece, were all taken from the aptly named New Inspiration Point. They show the Yosemite valley in winter, summer, during a storm, and at night. The sequence ends with the iconic Clearing Winter Storm. It is a lovely visual introduction to the volume, contrasting the same scene in different moods as determined by the season, lighting and weather. The remaining plates provide a mix of images that I am familiar with (Tenaya Creek, Dogwood, Rain; El Capitan, Winter Sunrise; Monolith, The Face of the Half Dome; Frozen Lake and Cliffs) and many others that I have not seen before and which will allow me to gain a deeper knowledge of, and appreciation for, Adams' body of work. One, Yosemite Valley, Thunderstorm, 1949, is already a new favourite. The portfolio is dominated by grand landscapes, although with a smaller number of more intimate pictures (Leaves, frost, Stump, October Morning; Fern Spring, Dusk; Sugerpine Boughs and Lichen). I like the variety in the selection as well as the fact that it includes all his best known photographs of the area. The reproductions are (to my untrained eye) excellent, with fine resolution and good tonality from highlights to shadows. Most of the landscape orientation images are about the size one gets when printing with a small margin on 10 x 8" paper. A few are smaller (about 8 x 6") for no apparent reason; except that the smaller ones are typically the more intimate scenes which do not suffer significantly from the smaller reproduction size (although I would still have preferred to see them the same size as the others). Fortunately all the vistas are printed 10 x 8, which is about the minimum size that I would consider acceptable for them. Portrait orientation images are slightly smaller - 8.5 x 7" or so. The paper is good quality, glossy and bright although perhaps not quite thick enough since one can still see the (fortunately fairly faint) outline of the image from the reverse of the page even when the page is laid flat, although this has not detracted from my enjoyment of any of the photographs. Images are presented one per page - sometimes the facing page is another image, and sometimes it is a short quotation. Importantly for me, photographs are never spread across two pages with the gutter intruding into the image area. There are a couple of very faint marks on what should be white areas - perhaps where ink has transferred from the facing photograph - but these are minor blemishes that do not spoil my enjoyment of the book.

    The book ends with a collection of some of Adams' writing - mostly forwards to various books of photographs of Yosemite or the Sierra Nevada. Four of the informative descriptions of the creative process from Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs are also included.

    Overall I'm pleased with the purchase and would rate this book 4 out of 5.
     
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  2. Mahler_one

    Mahler_one Member

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    Thanks for the in-depth review Andrew. Much appreciated. It is difficult to "reproduce" photographic images with fidelity and "honesty" in a book. Indeed, the process by which a photographic image is transferred to a printing plate is involved, costly when well done, and not easily mastered. It would be interesting if you might have the opportunity to compare the images in the wonderful book that you reference to those in one of the books offered by Lodima Press. The reproductions of Brett Weston's work are said to be as good as the actual photographs. Most of the other photographic books that I have seen suffer by comparison. I am pleased to know that the Adams book appears to be superior. Note that I have no business affiliation with Lodima press. It would be instructive if the owner of Lodima press-Michael Smith and Paul Chamlee-would have the opportunity to comment about the process of printing photographic images.

    Elliot
     
  3. ROL

    ROL Member

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    ??? I don't exactly get your (New Inspiration) point here. New Inspiration Point is the present east end Tunnel View, where EVERYONE takes pictures – and with good reason. Old Inspiration Point is along the historic carriage road from Wowona about a 1000' higher, accessible by trail. It is vastly overgrown now and no longer offers the stunning, easily accessed views of the New.


    Yosemite and the High Sierra (1994) is one of my favorite plate books and I consider its glossy renditions to be much finer and truer than the much ballyhooed 2001 Ansel Adams at 100 (also Szarkowski), whose plates are quite uncharacteristically warm toned, something Adams seem not to personally favor. As a note of historical accuracy (AA's autobiography), Adams was known to be very insistent that the images of his GSP's be as true as possible in book form, and pioneered quality duotone photographic reproduction. Indeed, Szarkowski is difficult, but I think his prose may be appreciated better in the narrative context of the Rick Burns AA PBS documentary.

    I feel nothing but sorrow for anyone who cannot gain some kind of inspiration from the photographic reproductions in Yosemite and the High Sierra, new or old, no matter their own personal style or interest.
     
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  4. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Actually, there is Old Inspiration Point, New Inspiration Point and Tunnel View. Old Inspiration Point being on the original trail into Yosemite where the Valley was first seen by whites. New Inspiration Point is on the road (for automobiles) that replaced the trail, but before the tunnel was made, and of course the present day Tunnel View (which is not considered to be one of the "Inspiration" points).

    One reaches New Inspiration Point by hiking up from the parking lot across the road from Tunnel View. From New Inspiration Point is a further hike up to reach Old Inspiration Point. Check out this trail guide (note the last paragraph):

    http://www.yosemitehikes.com/yosemite-valley/inspiration-point/inspiration-point.htm

    While I have done the hike to New Inspiration Point (and continued to Glacier Point on a 4-day backpack trip with the 4x5), I have not been to the Old Inspiration Point.

    And from the Yosemite NP website:

    Descending towards the Yo-Semite Valley, we came upon a high point clear of trees from whence we had our first view of the singular and romantic valley; and as the scene opened in full view before us, we were almost speechless with wondering admiration at its wild and sublime grandeur.—James Hutchings, from an 1855 journal entry at Old Inspiration Point

    Elliot, a good friend had a book published by Lodima. The story of its printing was quite entertaining, but the printing is of the highest quality.
     
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  5. andrew.roos

    andrew.roos Subscriber

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    Elliot:- thanks for your kind comments. I'm aware of the difficulty of reproducing photographs accurately but you should not place too much weight on my judgment as this is only the third portfolio book in my collection (as opposed to what I consider to be teaching books) and I have not, unfortunately , had the opportunity to view any original AA prints here in South Africa. I shall certainly look out for the Lodima editions when I add Brett Weston to my collection (actually a Weston is planned as my next acquisition; but probably Edward not Brett; not so much for the quality of the prints as for the quality of his chosen subject).

    ROL:- indeed this is the 1994 book, I should have mentioned that. I'm pleased that you also consider the reproductions to be of high quality, because that helps me to calibrate my expectations. Otherwise it would be quite possible for me to build a collection of mediocre reproductions thinking they were good simply because I had never seen anything better! My reference to "New Inspiration Point" is taken from Adam's description of "Clearing Winter Storm" in Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs. Inspiration is indeed the reason why I purchased this book, having returned to B&W analog photography from digital earlier this year; and I have no doubt that it will serve me well for many years.

    Vaughn:- Thanks for your clarification of the various "Inspiration Points".

    Andrew
     
  6. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

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    If you, Andrew, or anyone else, is interested in great photographs reproduced to the highest possible quality, I suggest you get a copy of the Lodima Press book, Edward Weston: Life Work. The reproductions are in 600-line screen quadtone. There is only one printer in the world who can print in 600-line screen. We use them.

    Edward Weston's early photographs were printed on matte-surface paper and in our Lodima Press book we used matte-surface paper to reproduce those prints. In addition this book is the only book that accurately prints the exact color of these early prints. To do this we printed in 600-line screen quadtone plus a color, so it is really five-color printing.

    When Weston switched to printing on glossy paper, we switched the paper the reproductions are on to glossy paper. Some of the photographs in this book have never been reproduced before and some are quote common. Here is a story about the reproduction of the well-known "Pepper #30."

    We know the collector who owns Edward’s own copy of Pepper #30. He considered it the best print he made from that negative. Eventually, Edward gave the print to Brett. And Brett gave it to a friend whose father was Brett's best friend. This friend sold it to this collector in 1974. (Way too soon.)

    When we showed the collector the book Edward Weston: Life Work, he brought down this print of Pepper #30, which we had seen previously, and placed it next to the reproduction of Pepper #30. We (me, Paula, the collector and the collector’s wife) looked very carefully at the print and at the reproduction, trying to find differences. There were a few, but they were virtually imperceptible without extremely close scrutiny, and even then, truly, there was hardly any difference between the print and the 600-line screen reproduction.

    After about three minutes of this intense looking the collector’s wife said, “You know, I think I like the reproduction better.”

    Also in the book Edward Weston: Life Work, among other essays, is an essay by Dody Weston Thompson, Edward Weston's last assistant. It is probably the finest writing ever about this great photographer.

    The book sells for $195. As remaining quantities are becoming fewer and fewer the price will soon be going up. But for you, Andrew, and for other APUG members, we will sell this book for only $150 (plus shipping). And we have one or two copies with the slightest problems--scuffed dust jacket, spot on one page, that we will sell for only $100 (plus shipping).

    Please send an email to info@lodimapress.com if interested.

    Michael A. Smith
     
  7. ROL

    ROL Member

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    "New Inspiration Point" was my initial point of confusion here. I've rarely seen the designation used before, possibly it just sounds better than Tunnel View. It wasn't clear to me at the time I posted that the OP didn't mean "new inspiration", but was simply playing on the book's description of the photo location. That was my sole motivation in attempting incorrectly to identify geographical points from inspiration. I believe inspiration can be found anywhere in Yosemite, the Sierra, California, the world, the universe, or in a garbage dump in Calcutta – new or old.

    Indeed, my casually written sentence attempting to decipher the OP's intent, was incorrect – the link given to yosemitehikes.com, not a Yosemite National Park site, being substantially correct. My fault for consulting my 30+ year old memory of a place and a trail I have hiked and skied at least a few times, rather than one of my many published maps. "Old" ROL had incorrectly adjective-ized "Old" before Inspiration Point (doing that a lot lately:wink:) in a faulty attempt to distinguish between it and Tunnel View as places of "inspiration". Inspiration Point (not "Old"), despite my generally accurate description of its views, is not on the old carriage road. The Pohono Trail crosses the road on the way up to Inspiration Point from the tunnel. Old Inspiration Point, rarely visited, lies nearer the South Rim, about a mile east of Inspiration Point, accessible from the Pohono Trail.

    At this point, my main interest in attempting correct identification arises from the sometimes "unknown" locations of pioneer photographers such as Watkins or Fiske, be understood in terms of the actual geography of the Park. I hope anyone coming upon this thread will research for themselves correct locations of historical photographs, AA included. As a help, one of many resources I might suggest is Yosemite Place Names (1988), by Peter Browning. Incidentally, under the heading of Inspiration Point, he states, "What is called 'Old Inspiration Point' was actually 'Mount Beatitude'. It is somewhat depressing rather than inspiring to know that there are eighteen places in California named Inspiration Point."

    [​IMG]
     
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  8. andrew.roos

    andrew.roos Subscriber

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    It is clear from AA's description that the location from which he photographed is on a road:

    "Clearing Winter Storm came about on an early December day.... I drove to the place known as New Inspiration Point, which commands a marvelous view of the Yosemite valley.... At this location one cannot move more than a hundred feet or so to the left without reaching the edge of the almost perpendicular cliffs above the Merced river. Moving the same distance to the right would interpose a screen of trees or require an impractical position on the road.Moving forward would invite disaster on a very steep slope falling to the east. Moving the camera backward would bring the esplenade and the protective rock wall into the field of view."

    This description seems to match Tunnel View (http://www.nps.gov/yose/naturescience/scenic-vistas-tunnel-view.htm) well. The term "esplanade" in particular suggests a paved or tarred area that is not a road, which is what can be seen in the third photograph on the referenced website titled "Visitors take in Yosemite's famous scenery, including of the Valley, from Tunnel View on a summer day in 1940", complete with protective rock wall. The perspective over Yosemite also appears correct. It is easiest to compare perspectives in Yosemite Valley, Summer, Yosemite National Park, c. 1935 (plate 2) since the distant mountains are not obscured and their location relative to the nearer mountains can be compared with the photograph taken from Tunnel View and shown in the web link. However for me the most telling is the location of the light gray areas surrounded by green on the rising slope on the left of the national parks board photograph. These appear almost identically and very clearly in Yosemite Valley, Summer, Yosemite National Park, c. 1935 and quite recognisably, though less clearly, in Clearing Winter Storm. Since this appears in the near middle distance, the locations from which these photographs were taken must be very close.

    So I agree that Clearing Winter Storm and the other photographs with the same perspective were in fact taken from Tunnel View. Given the choice, I would also have referred to the location as "New Inspiration Point", and I intend to remember it as such!

    [Edit] After writing this, I remembered that I have another similar photograph of the valley: "Fall Storm Over The Yosemite Valley, California" by Galen Rowell. In his write-up, Galen says "I drove to the traditional viewpoint at the Wawona Tunnel and took photographs on a tripod.... When I first projected this image for some photographer friends, one of them said it looked like a negative for Ansel Adams' famous "Clearing Winter Storm" taken in 1940 from the same location. I got out an old Hills Brothers coffee can I had saved that displayed that image as a full-size wraparound. The comparison amazed us because the values were indeed reversed. Adams had photographed a clearing winter storm after most of the snow had melted from the trees .His trees were black; mine were white. His talus slope in front of El Capitan was white; mine was black. His sky was ominous and dark, rendered through a yellow filter; mine was nearly white, because the clouds were lighter than my exposure for the ground." (Mountain Light, p. 63 - my emphasis at "from the same location"). The perspectives do appear very similar, although it is difficult to be sure since Galen's composition uses a wider angle of view than Adams'.
     
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  9. andrew.roos

    andrew.roos Subscriber

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    Michael thanks for the kind offer. The book sounds wonderful.
    Andrew
     
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  10. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    So I guess we have Old Inspiration Point, New Inspiration Point and Newest Inspiration Point (aka Tunnel View)! :D
     
  11. ROL

    ROL Member

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    I bow before the altar of the OP's tenacity.

    But here are a couple of considerations regarding your sources. AA was famously inaccurate in his temporal statements and geographic locations, particularly in his later years. Some, for instance in the Making of 40 Photographs book, are flat out wrong. Specifically, the variously titled "Early Morning, Merced River, YNP", could never be located using his remembered exact description in that book. In fact many "experts" erroneously claimed the location to be in the eastern end of the Valley near Tenaya Creek, opposite of its true general location. The tree itself has since been lost to the Merced River (see here). This is in no way meant as criticism, it is simply fact relating to a reasonably long life well lived ("Old" ROL? :D).

    I find it hilarious that Rowell was, at least at some point, comparing himself to Adams. He famously referred to Adams obliquely in his own writings as "hoary old bearded types". Read that: large format black & white photographers, in a not so subtle attempt to separate himself from the old crowd. Rowell, who never shirked from the ever abused approbation of THE ANSEL ADAMS OF COLOR, a title bestowed by philistine copy writers and agents upon nearly everyone and anyone who has ever shot anything remotely resembling color landscape (sorry – one of my pet peeves). And just to be clear, I am also a great admirer of Galen, who I supped with much prior to his photographic zenith. I feel, perhaps unjustifiably, that his documentary talents and tonal sensibilities were headed to more of a confluence with Adams then he even realized, at the point of his untimely departure.
     
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  12. andrew.roos

    andrew.roos Subscriber

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    I take your point about the inaccuracy of his description of locations. He had similar problems with dates, as he mentions in his description of Moonrise.

    However I'm satisfied that the photographic evidence shows that Clearing Winter Storm and the others were made within a few hundred feet either side of Tunnel View, which agrees with your original post that "New Inspiration Point is the present east end Tunnel View, where EVERYONE takes pictures – and with good reason". You were right; that's where AA took his, too. The fact that it also ties in which his recollection of the location (the road, esplenade and low stone wall) is a nice confirmation but not necessary for this conclusion.

    The funny thing is, it doesn't really matter to me where they were taken. They stand by themselves; the precise location has only a slight historical interest. I mentioned "New Inspiration Point" in my review because it is such an appropriate name given the impact these photographs have had on me and so many others.

    Thanks for an interesting discussion, ROL.
     
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