There are a couple things about Ansel that have to be understood.

First, he was an artist.

Second, he lived and worked in his age, not ours.

Any half-witted attempt to deconstruct his work is futile, because his work is beyond the ability of most deconstructionists. There is no point to read the code of the image, it was not codified. It was not about an idea. it was all feeling.

Ansel was - if we can place him in any artistic category, he was a very late Romantic. His method involved the translation of the FEELING he had when he saw a scene into a negative in order to make a print that would elicit the same response from a viewer. That is why he photographed, and it was the essence of the Zone System. He called it Visualisation, in other words, making sensible the feelings he had. It has more to do with Stanislavski than BTZS.

Adams was not a Naturalist, nor a Realist. Not a Modernist. If you don't recognize that, you miss Adams completely. His work, however, is so convincing ( and we are so tainted by Post-Modernism ) that we never consider that he didn't make representational images.


So, Mt. Williamson is NOT a realistic, natural image of the scene. It is a grand departure from what was real, and expression of how he felt standing there. It is NOT a picture of Mt. Williamson, it is a picture of the inside of Adam's head.

The ardent conservationist that was Adams saw the wilderness in relation to it's potential spiritual value to humanity. He was a social guy, and saw mankind fulfilled by the natural world.

The bitterness his apparent financial success engenders among artists, and art photographers, is galling to me. He worked hard his entire life, provided for his family, and left a small estate. He never drew a steady paycheck for sitting at a desk and pretending to work. He paid his own health care. He never got the huge prices for his work that galleries demanded toward the end of his life.

So, what do we see when we look at Adams' pictures ? Try looking past the legend, the lore, and assumptions ( of our making ) and look at the picture. Drop the idea that Photography is realistic. Look at each picture as a self portrait, not a snapshot of some old mountain.

If all we look at is his composition and depth of field, we aren't seeing.