Posted by: David Vernon | February 15, 2010

Ansel Adams in Color Indeed

We’ve never really done a book review here on the CIPB. And I’m not sure this is really the beginning of anything but…

I was recently gifted the amazing book “Ansel Adams in Color” (edited by Harry M. Callahan with John P. Schaefer and Andrea G. Stillman – Little, Brown and Company) by people far better then me. Their kindness rewarded me with an amazing adventure through the color work that Adams began in the mid-1930s shortly after the introduction of Kodak’s Kodachrome film.

From the book jacket:

“Overall, Adams made nearly 3,500 color photographs, but only a small fraction has ever been published…. This reinvigorated classic is the only volume of Adams’ color photography. In his late seventies, Adams began to think seriously about publishing a book of his color images, but it was not accomplished during his lifetime. In 1993, the Ansel Adams Trust asked the late master photographer Harry Callahan to select the best of Adams’ color work for publication. The new photographs in this edition were selected by John P. Schaefer and Andrea G. Stillman, both of whom collaborated with Callahan on the original selections.”

The current editors go on to explain:

“Even a casual survey of the hundreds of transparencies in the Adams archive reveals his technical mastery of the medium – compositions are precise, exposures are balanced, and the illuminated images spring to life. Yet throughout his life Ansel remained ambivalent about color photography… Much of his antipathy toward color stemmed from the extremely poor quality of color photographic reproduction that was the norm at the time he was actively photographing. Another source of his frustration was the inability to adequately translate the brilliance of a color transparency into a fine print.”

Fortunately we’ve come a long way technologically speaking – and the 56 plates in this book simply are stunning and leap off the page. My favorites are too numerous too mention, but if I had to pick a handful (thankfully this is just an exercise) then I highly recommend “Church, Sunset, Rear, Ranchos De Taos, New Mexico, c. 1948” (as seen in the Smithsonian Collection); the amazing “Caladium Leaves, Foster Botanical Gardens, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1948” (as seen in the Smithsonian Collection); my favorite trees – “Aspens, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, 1947” (as seen in the Ansel Adams Online Store – and also the left image on the book’s cover); and “Yosemite Valley from the Esplanade, Yosemite National Park, California, 1948” (the center image on featured on the cover of the book).

It’s easy to like Adams’ work. Some folks scoff at the easy choice of Adams when you list your favorite landscape photographers. I’m unapologetic for that – entirely. I have no problem coming back to Adams as among my favorites of all time. His black and white work is unparalleled. His command of the light and the intimacy of his vistas is breathtaking. Sorry – it just is. But now seeing so much of his color work wonderfully reproduced – it’s even easier to pick Adams as a fave.

The book is just wonderful. A big thanks to K and B for a fine, fine gift.

For more information on this book, consult Smithsonian.com, which  ran a photo essay on this book and has a slideshow of 12 prints from the book here. Enjoy. They also have a slightly more in-depth review of the book here.

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