Dogwood Blossoms

Story Behind the Image

Each year, for about three weeks in April or May, the blooming of Yosemite’s famous dogwood trees turns the Merced River Valley into a kaleidoscope of brilliant white blossoms and tiny yellow buds. This awe-inspiring scene would inspire one of the few still-life images of Ansel Adams’s career, “Dogwood Blossoms.”

In 1938, on an excursion through Yosemite Valley with Edward Weston, a fellow nature photographer and one of Ansel’s lifelong friends and creative partners, the pair found themselves face to face with the brilliant dogwood bloom. Perhaps it was Weston, a noted-still life photographer, who inspired Ansel to approach the scene as a still-life. Or perhaps it was the beautiful contrast between the bright starlight of the blossoms and the still-bare forest behind it. In any case, Ansel quickly arranged a nearby dogwood branch on top of a rock covered with pine needles and moss, set up his camera, and made this image. “Dogwood Blossoms” perfectly captures the promise of new life that is Spring.

Ansel Adams, “Dogwood Blossoms,” Yosemite Special Edition Photograph and Modern Replica

In 1959, Ansel selected this image as one of sixteen included in his collection “Portfolio III, Yosemite Valley.” Published by the Sierra Club, Portfolio III celebrates the year-round splendor of Yosemite. As Ansel put it in his introduction: “Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space. I know of no sculpture, painting, or music that exceeds the compelling spiritual command of the soaring shape of granite cliff and done, of patine of light on rock and forest, and of the thunder and whispering of the falling, flowing waters. At first, the colossal aspect may dominate; then we perceive and respond to the delicate and persuasive complex of nature.”

As a perceptive and moving look at the flourishing of the delicate and new amidst the ancient forest, “Dogwood Blossoms” stands among Ansel’s finest work of Yosemite.

By Nicky Guerreiro, Creative Writer for The Ansel Adams Gallery