Someone described Adams' photographs as Wagnerian - and I think that's a good description. (For those who might not know, Richard Wagner was a late-Romantic composer of orchestral works and opera).
A couple of years ago, I had a chance to see an Adams exhibit at the University of Florida. The works came from a private collection and most were not the prints one usually sees today. This collector sought out vintage prints - prints made near the time the negatives were exposed. Thus, there were many prints from famous negatives, but the prints were smaller - and far less contrasty - less bold - in other words, far less Wagnerian. Many from 4x5 negatives were printed smaller than 8x10. These prints demonstrated how much Adams vision changed over the years - and they challenge his own expressed ideas about visualization. Did he really visualize the dramatic prints that he made later in life (and was unable to make them until more modern materials came along) or did he change his visualization as he grew as an artist?
Adams did take photographs of things - and his feelings about them. He also explored relationships - as Donald says frequently near-far. It's interesting to see how differently viewers can react to them - what they bring to the print and what they search for.
Like Donald, I was influenced by his work early and am less so now. I have not only his three books from the 80s, but the five little books that preceeded them. Those books were my introduction to photographic theory and performance (yes, I view photography as a performance - I'm a musician, what can you say?)
The instant photograph is pure Adams at his best - Elsa's arrival at the cathedral after the long procession.