ANSEL ADAMS: Classic Images
STUDENT PROJECTS - New Canaan High School
After visiting the museum, I found I had a great interest in analyzing Ansel Adam's photographs. The "tours" were helpful, along with the beginning background information. If I had to change one thing however, I would have given us more free time to analyze a particular photograph (either) drawing or writing about it. I would also probably have given us more time as a group to see and talk about more than just 3 or 4 photographs (to hear more of one another's ideas).
Ansel Adams Assignment
The photographs by Ansel Adams are very symbolic of many topics we have discussed throughout the year. The one that stood out the most to me was the idea of the American Way. One way to define the American Way would be a constant hope for the future. Many immigrants came to this country in search of a better opportunity than they had been previously given. This optimism has been instilled in our society. We as Americans are constantly preparing for our futures with high hopes of the best for ourselves. Ansel Adams' photographs had a strong emphasis on hope. There were few photographs of people in rough circumstances because he wanted to concentrate on people overcoming obstacles, not people taken down by them. He concentrated mainly on nature and landscapes. In each of these landscapes there were various sections of light and dark contrasts. In many various cases the dark sections are towards the bottom and they lead to the light at the top. One example was a photograph of the Japanese relocation camp at Manzanar. They were many large rocks towards the base which represented the obstacles that must be faced in order to reach the beautiful mountains in the distance. These mountains were illuminated and there was a clearing in the clouds. This was symbolic of the road to freedom the Japanese Americans had to travel. It was a light at the end of the tunnel and the hope of a better future. Another photograph that expressed this hope was the "Clearing Winter Storm". It was the good that comes after the bad. It symbolizes the fact that you need to suffer though bad times once in a while, but their will always be that hope of something better once the storm clears.
Ansel Adams only photographed American scenes. He loved the American landscapes and the powerful aura they created. The peaceful and serene qualities of the endless deserts and the majestic fruits of the immense mountains. In many of the photographs of Ansel Adams' there is a sense of hope and beauty beyond the shadows. The American Way is to find a way to achieve a perfect future. There are many different ways to interpret how one would reach the "illuminate mountains", but it does not matter how one gets there. Everyone will take a different path, but they are all looking towards these same mountains.
"Don't Judge a Book By its Cover"
Through many of his photographs, the idea of similarities and equality, yet differences and individualism was illustrated.
All of these landscapes we looked at today relate to an idea of groups and conformity. Like his photographs, everything and everyone can appear so tranquil, simple, happy, beautiful, and comforting. Yet by looking deeper into the minds of people or the photographs, there is difference, individualism and chaos.
Relating to life issues and people, they appear just from the outside as happy and perfect, but deep inside there is anger, sadness and/or confusion.
In the "Rose and Driftwood" photograph in San Francisco, I wrote (in my postcard) how this scene was so calm with no distraction and no problems. The rose, representing beauty, seemed so soft, tranquil and delicate. However, looking more and more at the romantic contrast in colors of the rose, I felt like the rose represented more sadness and loss for whoever left it there.
In the next photograph, "Death Valley", I began to see more of these sharp contrasts that were hidden, likes those in the "Rose and Driftwood". The most significant part of this piece was that there were very smooth textured areas and rough areas, which intersected in a very sharp edge. This again gave me the feeling of a strong contrast. When first looking at the photograph it seemed plain and almost boring. Looking further into it, it came alive.
The final photograph is "Mount Williamson" in Nevada. In the scene, there are millions of rocks leading up to mountains, etc. The technique again used in this picture is the millions of different grays. From a quick glance, the rocks are sort of mlurred away and the mountains draw the attention. However, for me, these rocks were the most significant part of the scenery. Of these many rocks, they look all the same, yet everyone is completely different in its coloring. Ironically, this landscape is exactly where Japanese internment camps were set up. To look out at this land, knowing this fact, the idea of the many different rocks all appearing to look the same relates to the horizontal event. The rocks symbolize the Japanese people who were being interned just because of the way they looked. To the officers to put them there, Japanese were all the same. Yet, imagining myself looking out from a fenced in almost jail, this view shows at this piece at first glance, it seems so beautiful and calm and comfortable. Yet 50 years ago, those lens would be taking a picture of something much much different. Like the other tow photographs, "Mount Williamson" shows how things can appear so perfect, but end up showing something sad and distressful.
From today, I learned a lot more about art. Because I am not much of an artist, I saw these pictures to be beautiful, but not have much a story behind it. Today I began to so deeper into the picture, seeing things that the camera could not do. I realized that many of his photographs show so much more than a pretty, comforting place.
If rugged individualism is the main characteristic of a typical American, then Ansel Adams fits perfectly into that description. Though most of the people we have studied in class were made legends for their action, Ansel is a legend because of his creations. Not only is his work amazingly perfect and beautiful, but it is also that which may only be completed by a true American. The reason why I believe that that is true, is because all of Ansel's photos contained American landscapes and/or ideals. My favorite photo of his that looked like an American landscape is called "Clearing Winter Storm". In the picture, there are trees, mountains, and a waterfall. All images which can be considered very peaceful, and western but most of all American. Alnsel's pictures are also taken straight from scenes in nature which is proof that he loved nature in a similar way to that of Thoreau. Some pictures show nature as an overwhelming and overpowering force, bigger than man, while others simply stand to show the many faces of nature that few are able to ever see and even fewer can ever comprehend. Another theme which stood out in Ansel's work besides nature, was the theme of Manifest Destiny and Expansion. In another one of my favorite photos taken by Ansel, are hills outlined in tall trees and there is a thick fog hovering over the land in the background. In the distance, the sky is clear and the sun in shining. To me, it seemed as though Ansel wanted to show the foreground as a dark, scary place and the background as the promised land. This was the same idea I got while looking at the "View from Manzanar" picture where the inside of the camp is rocky, symbolizing challenging times and obstacles. But again, the background has tall hills that seem to glow in the sunlight, as if that was the land given by God, every person's dreamland. Both of these pictures emphasize hope and promise as they one also uninhabited by humans, very untouched looking. Ansel's photography gives his viewers a feeling of awe. They have been created, each with a specific style to exhibit textures, shapes, tones, angels, spaces and volumes. Looking at these masterpieces up close, it become obvious that Ansel was a nature lover, a perfectionist, a unique individual with an unbelievable talent and a true American.
A New Perspective of History
After visiting the display of Ansel Adams' photographs it amazed me how many different ideas came from one piece of his work. Adams' pieces were unique because they forced you to use your own imagination. After seeing several of his seventy-five pieces, I realized that Adams' took his photographs from new perspectives, which is why they were incomparable. His work which held a common theme of nature and also displayed America during the early 1900's, created a new perspective and vision of life and history.
Ansel Adams' seventy-five selected pieces of nature clearly held a connection to events which have occurred in history. His first piece of work which I saw was definitely one of the most differentiating pieces from the entire collection. This photograph entitled "Mount Williamson, The Sierra Nevada," was taken in California in 1945. The photograph, probably taken during the early morning, display's at first a perfect serene place, almost as if it were nonexistent. Immediately, the mountain in the background became the dominant feature in this photograph; to me, it represented an American, almighty and powerful. This "powerful" American was someone who represented and lived by the "American Way." Perhaps it could have been the American Government, or rather some powerful leader.
When I found out that this photograph was taken of a Japanese Internment camp, I realized the effect nature had on life during the mid 1900's. For the Japanese, their lives were difficult; "The infamous decision of the government (in the time of feat and hysteria following Pearl Harbor) to transport American citizens of Japanese ancestry to several detention camps resulted in most severe hardships among the Japanese American population of the West Coast." A new image was then put in my head. The small rocks scattered everywhere just beneath and along the mountain, became people, they represented the Japanese, the minority. There were so many of them, and just one big powerful America. However, through it all, the Americans demonstrated selfishness, doing anything, taking away the Japanese's lives, in order to gain power. Overall, from my perspective, this photograph was deliberately taken to portray the unique relationship between a group of minorities and Americans. We have always lived by the "American Way," taking any step necessary for our own survival.
I found this piece to be the most interesting out of all of Adams' work. The way that he took an incredibly devastating situation in American history and photographed a picture which resembled paradise, took talent, it took Adams'. From this photograph, it seems as if Adams' was trying to show how the Japanese, though nature, created a happier environment. The Americans, however, acted as selfish individuals, doing anything it took to get to the top. The "American Way," in this particular photograph forced the Japanese to use new ideas, and created a better lifestyle for themselves. From Adams' perspective, he wanted to show the accomplishments of the Japanese-Americans during the 1900's. How they took a horrible situation and nature, to create a serene, less chaotic situation; He recognized the Japanese attempt to use nature, America, to create a different life. Ignoring the powerful "American Way" was something the Japanese were able to do. Ansel Adams was someone who recognized this fact, and acknowledged such an accomplishment.
Ansel Adams the American Photographer
Ansel Adams was self taught, he dropped out of schooling system in the 8th grade, and from there he went on to become one of the most famous and recognizable artist in the world. He had a great way of using the sunlight and other things that make each picture unique so when you look at it you might not see any significance but when you look a little harder you see a lot. The best example of that was the picture of the old lady and the piece of wood in the background and how he was comparing her face to the wood. At first Ansel went along with society. He would blur his pictures to make them look like a painting because at that time period photography was not considered an art.
Ansel Adams can be connected to many different people for many different things. On the more obvious note he can easily be connected to Thoreau because of his experiences in nature and his mediation process. He can also be connected to Thoreau because of how he went against society and dropped out of 8th grade against society's rules and went on to self educate himself to greatness. He can also be connected to propaganda and how his picture of the Japanese interment camp's outer terrain looked. What I mean by this is that in the Propaganda it looked like the camps were a nice neat place to live, while Ansel's picture shows what was on the outside of the camp that was land covered with large boulders and rocks-terrain very hard to escape from one of the camps. So in a way, Ansel's picture contradicts what the propaganda movie was trying to tell the people of America.
Ansel's pictures can be considered the American Way in one main thing that I noticed in his pictures, and that is also the main terrain in America. That terrain is an example of how open we are literally and in our minds. We are not enclosed like a Rain Forest for example. His pictures are also examples of what diversity we have in terrain; we have deserts, Rocky Mountains, snow capped trees, beaches, forests, and waterfalls. These different terrains noted in each of his different pictures are an example of the diversity we have here in America. One picture sticks out in my mind and that is the one off the coast of California, it was a picture of the waves breaking on the coast. On the shore there is rough terrain of rocks and dirt, then there is the smooth almost silky part where the water has smoothed the sand out, then there is the actual ocean itself, which in my mind represents confusion. These different types of terrain represent what America is made up of with their terrain, their people, their way of life, and the NYSE. America is changing all the time.
Ansel Adams cannot be considered a leader in my opinion, for the same reason why Michael Jordan cannot be considered a leader either. We talked about this in class, and the fact that you actually have to do something for society to benefit from in order to be looked upon as a leader in society today- in my opinion.
Housatonic Museum of Art