Ansel Adams, Yosemite and the High Sierra - First Impressions
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.