Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Ansel Adams and Composition

9/3/22 Thumbnails as visual notes from Ansel
Adams exhibit

 The Museum of History and Industry had an excellent exhibit of Ansel Adams’ work. Although we had been meaning to catch it all summer, we didn’t get to it until a couple of days before it closed on Labor Day, and I’m glad we didn’t miss it. Many of our trips to national parks have been inspired by Adams’ stunning photography, especially of Yosemite (who could ever see a photo of Moon and Half Dome without yearning to see it in real life?).

I have long loved his work, but my recent study of composition enabled me to appreciate his work all the more. I scribbled a couple of thumbnails just as reminders of thoughts I’d had while viewing these masterworks. For example, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941). In a black sky illuminated only near the horizon, the nearly-full moon hangs almost in the center of the composition, both vertically and horizontally. He could have made it a bit more off-center, but he didn’t. The sky’s blackness covers more than half the composition – more than I would have thought to give it, yet the weight of all that blackness adds to the bleakness of the buildings and cemetery below. The tension pulls in so many directions – fully controlled by this master of composition.

I’ll leave you with two quotations from Adams that made me think of all visual art, even my own sketches (or at least my reasons for sketching):

These attempts at sketching a handsome young dog are
not at all related to Ansel Adams except that we stopped
for lunch after the exhibit at Sizzle & Crunch. Moving
constantly, the dog was ever hopeful that his human would
drop a bit of food for him but also distracted by every sound
and movement around him.
“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”

“What I do seems natural and simple to me; to others it may appear a miraculous performance. It is neither simple nor miraculous; it is a personal expression based on observation and reaction that I am not able to define except in terms of the work itself.”


  1. I remember visiting Yosemite many years ago and going into a gallery that had work by Ansel Adams. In addition to the work that was hanging they had drawers with some of his work neatly kept between what must have been acid-free papers. The lady was so nice to pull some of them out for us to see. His work is amazing!

    1. Wow, that must have been really special to see the photos without being under glass. His work is amazing, indeed!


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