Atmospheric Reflections Original Photographs

Atmospheric Reflections: Original Photographs by Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams Original Photographs, Story Behind the Image

Tree, Stump and Mist, Northern Cascades, Washington

Tree, Stump and Mist, Northern Cascades, Washington, 1958, Original Photograph by Ansel Adams View Artwork

I can get—for me—a far greater sense of ‘color’ through a well-planned and executed black-and-white image than I have ever achieved with color photography,Ansel Adams once wrote

Indeed, despite being primarily remembered for his skill with black-and-white photography, his status as one of our greatest atmospheric photographers remains unchallenged, even in this era of high-definition and brilliant-color photography. To observe an Ansel Adams photograph is to travel to the place where it was made, to feel the cool mist and observe the forest’s dappled light, as though one were Ansel himself, laboring over his tripod to capture the perfect angle.

A new grouping of images, recently acquired by The Ansel Adams Gallery, shows Ansel’s ability to convey the feeling and atmospheric qualities of a place. These original gelatin silver prints of “Tenaya Creek, Spring Rain, Yosemite National Park” (1948), “Clearing Storm, Sonoma County Hills” (1951), and “Tree, Stump and Mist, Northern Cascades, Washington” (1958) are alike in their ethereal, romantic reflections of nature. 

In Adams’ photograph of Tenaya Creek, the dogwood blossoms (which shown here in their full glory, can only be seen during a few fleeting weeks in April and May) twinkle almost like stars among the night’s sky of forest branches. Though dramatic contrasts of light and dark are the hallmark of some of Ansel’s most iconic photographs, here daylight lends a soft, almost gauzy quality to the dogwood trees’ lush blossoms. Viewing this image, one would never imagine the dreary day when Ansel exposed the negative. As he writes in Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, while traipsing the park in search of the perfect dogwood display, “A light rain began to fall, and I considered giving up for the day, but when I came to an opening in the trees and saw this subject open up before me, I banished such thoughts of defeat and set up the camera.” It’s easy to see why Ansel braved rain and would have endured far worse to capture this inviting view of Tenaya Creek, its bend beckoning all who see it to delve more deeply into the natural wonders of Yosemite National Park. As Ansel himself put it best, “I hope that the print conveys not only the moment, but some evidence of my perception to which the viewer may respond. To some, this location by Tenaya Creek on a rainy day might be merely damp and uncomfortable… To others, the cool calm rain and forest light would be things to revel in, likely to initiate some creative reaction.” 

Tenaya Creek, Spring Rain, Yosemite National Park

Tenaya Creek, Spring Rain, Yosemite National Park, Original Photograph by Ansel Adams
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This “creative reaction” is clear in “Clearing Storm, Sonoma County Hills,” printed by the artist for Portfolio IV, “What Majestic World.” In this intensely atmospheric depiction of the fog rolling over the forests of Sonoma County, it’s impossible not to conjure up the feeling of the dense, rich fog of a Bay Area morning before the marine layer over San Francisco Bay has been burnt away by the noonday sun. As any resident of the Bay Area knows, crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge is each time a unique experience; no two views are ever the same. As celebratory of the romance of a clearing storm as he was of a clear-skied and sunny day, Ansel’s work conveys the brilliant glory of our natural world, in a universally relatable and experiential manner, no matter the view.

Though mist or fog seems to envelop all that it touches, when seen through Ansel’s sensitive photographic eye, it takes on a variety of properties. In “Tree, Stump and Mist, Northern Cascades, Washington” (1958) we see a very different depiction of fog, one that highlights the stoic, steadfast beauty of the trees that define the Evergreen State. As any resident of the Pacific Coast knows, the terrible droughts and wildfires that have become commonplace in recent decades were during Ansel’s time a rarity; and yet his August 1958 trip to North Cascades National Park unhappily coincided with one of the worst droughts in the region’s history. As he bemoaned in a letter, “Never have I packed so many pounds of equipment so far for so little! … Forest fires and smog over everything… I have not a single picture of the type I came for!” Nonetheless, despite smoke, smog, and thick fog, in addition to his immense frustration, one of the negatives he captured became this extraordinary photograph. If nothing else, it’s perhaps the ultimate encapsulation of the spirit of adventure in this age of constant fire and renewal.

Clearing Storm, Sonoma County Hills

Clearing Storm, Sonoma County Hills, 1951, Original Photograph by Ansel Adams
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Taken as a whole, these photographs serve as a reminder of the enduring and ever-changing quality of nature in the West, and of the way that all who travel to view its wild places carry their experiences with them when they depart. In everything he did, Ansel Adams sought to capture the rich and varied experience of traveling amongst our sacred wilderness, both the sunny days for picnicking in Yosemite and the ephemeral encounters with the dense fog of the Cascades. By inviting all who viewed his work to experience for themselves the wonders of nature, he instructed us all to respect and value it, as much for its unpredictability as its beauty. 

For more information regarding our gallery’s selection of Original Photographs by Ansel Adams, please call (888) 238-9244 or email originals@anseladams.com

Last Updated on March 29, 2022