So vast is the detail of the Sierra, so many aspects of the region demand adequate interpretation, that no one work of science or of art may compass it. It is one of the wonders of the natural world – a fresh and complete exposition of the forces of glaciation, of erosions by wind and waters, and of the deep travail of the earth.
As a region of recreation it is unequaled. In no other mountain range may be found a more benign climate, more favorable conditions for life out-of-doors, wider opportunities for the study and enjoyment of nature, more exciting temptations for the mountaineer. The ice-fields of the Alps and the Canadian Rockies are not found in the Sierra, but, as more than adequate compensation for this lack, there are clean high spires and summits of stone, crystalline sun and air, and the fragrance of lofty meadows and wild gardens.
For the artist and all others seeking the intimate splendors of the natural world the Sierra is an inexhaustible well of esthetic and spiritual stimulation. The interpretation of the Range has been mostly factual, but we may be sure that in time artists and poets, gifted in relating the qualities of nature to the mystical and creative elements in man, will seek in the remote fastness of these mountains the substance of their expression. The emotional interpretation of the Sierra Nevada – the revelation of the beauty of wide horizons and the tender perfection of detail – is the function of the present work.
The region concerned in this collection of photographs stretches from the Yosemite National Park in the north to the Sequoia National Park in the south, including the watersheds of the Tuolumne, Merced, San Joaquin, Kings, Kern, and Kaweah rivers, and the numerous streams descending the eastern slope. The John Muir Trail is the main artery through the Sierra, enabling the traveler to enjoy not only the rugged splendors of the crest, but also the more tranquil lower spurs and canyons and the magnificent desert-fronting regions of the Range.
A word about the photographs themselves: my best work with the camera in the Sierra, they attempt to convey the experiences and the moods derived from a close association with the mountains. Many of the important peaks and canyons are not represented – the sheer limit of space would restrict a complete exposition of this kind. No attempt is made to portray the Range in the manner of a catalogue; in fact, the program of the book determines that factual, informative qualities be submerged in favor of purely emotional interpretative elements. A detail of a tree root, a segment of a rock, a great paean of thunder clouds, – all these relate with equal intensity to the portrayal of an impressive peak or canyon. The grandiose elements of the scene are subordinated to the more intimate aspects – for it is through the reception of beauty in detail that our experiences are formed and qualified. The majesty of form, the solidity of stone, the eternal qualities of the Sierra as a noble gesture of the earth, cannot be transcribed in any but the richest and most intense expression. Nevertheless, a certain objectivity must be maintained, a certain quality of reality adhered to, for these images – integrated through the camera – represent the most enduring and massive aspects of the world, and justify more than an abstract and esoteric interpretation. I feel secure in confining the tone-scale of my prints to a vibrant deep register and in adhering to a certain austerity throughout, in accentuating the acuteness of edge and texture, and in stylizing the severity, grandeur, and poignant minutiae of the mountains.
This work, then, is a transmission of emotional experience – personal, it is true, as any work of art must be, – but inclusive in the sense that others have enjoyed similar experiences so they will understand this interpretation of the intimate and intense beauty of the Sierra Nevada.
Yosemite National Park
March 17, 1938