A local gallery was having a special exhibit for a collection of Ansel Adams photos. Today was the final day, so I made it a point to go. 125 Ansel Adams photos seemed like something that shouldn’t be missed!

I kick myself now for waiting until the last day. And mid-day on a Sunday, no less. The line to get tickets was long. After getting tickets, the line into the exhibit area was long. The slow crawl of the snaking crowd through the gallery was excruciating. Every shoulder in my way, every person bumping up against me, it grated on my nerves until I was tempted to just walk out and to hell with looking at the pictures! I caught myself.

I’m glad I stuck it out. I did not examine all of the pictures minutely. I did not even do more than glance at a large number of pictures, after the first 15 or so. It was look at the ones that caught my eye, or go insane! In some ways it was educational to realize what would catch my eye. On the other hand, it would have been educational in a different way if I’d been able to put aside the many minor annoyances and spend the time looking at all of the pictures. Not all pictures are going to catch your eye from a distance, that doesn’t mean they won’t capture your imagination given the chance to take a good look.

This brings up something interesting about the general differences between photography and painting, but that’s something to save for another day.

Ansel Adams’ early stuff was extremely different from his later works, the ones he’s so famous for. He started out at age 12 taking pictures with a Kodak Brownie camera that his dad gave him. Snapshots on a family trip, and that quick, his imagination was captured by photography. He joined the Sierra Club and would go on hikes with them, and it wasn’t long before he’d become their official photographer for various hikes and events. Yet his focus early on was on becoming a concert pianist! It wasn’t until he was about 25 that he was convinced to focus seriously on photography.

His early photography was in what was known as the “pictoralism” style. I’d never heard of that before, but it is characterized by a soft focus and being printed on highly textured paper. It didn’t appeal to me. Later on he was influenced by another photographer, and began taking the pictures he’s so well known for now, the landscapes of Yosemite. Yet it was a different kind of picture that tended to draw me.

The interesting and quirky picture of a fence. The portrait of two men. The portrait of Georgia O’Keefe and their guide.

As time went on (the exhibit was more or less chronological), you could see his photography change. It became more powerful, in many ways. He was fascinated with the changing skies before and after storms (and who can blame him?), and on high contrast images. It seemed to me that he was taking portraits of the light itself, and that’s what I found compelling.

Most of the pictures in the exhibit didn’t move me that much, which surprised me. I’d always liked his photography, what I’ve seen of it, so maybe it was the crowd that diminished much of my enjoyment of his pictures. Regardless, seeing the exhibit emphasized the importance of light in photography. That sounds like such an obvious statement, and of course it is. Yet when you study light, and the way it changes day to day, season to season, hour to hour, you realize that for such an obvious aspect of the world around us, light is a complicated and ever-changing thing. That’s part of what makes it so fascinating, at least to me. The best light often gives you a window of just a few minutes to try to capture it, and even then the most compelling aspect of the light is also the most elusive to really capture and express through the camera.

light portrait of a chicken
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