Moon and Half Dome – Original Photograph by Ansel Adams
Half Dome, the granite crest whose grand scope and sheer face, is one of Yosemite National Park’s defining features, was a frequent source of inspiration for Ansel Adams. Over the course of his career, which spanned more than half a century, Ansel made numerous photographs, each of which shows a different side to the dome. In “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome,” the peak is looming, and at that angle and proximity, it dominates the viewer with its massive height. In Ansel’s iconic photograph of “Moon and Half Dome”, it takes on a very different character. As Ansel put it, “I have photographed Half Dome innumerable times, but it is never the same Half Dome, never the same light or the same mood… The many images I have made reflect my varied creative responses to this remarkable granite monolith.”
In 1960, Ansel made this image with a Hasselblad camera while driving towards the Ahwahnee Hotel, located within the boundaries of the National Park. As frequently happened to Ansel on his journeys across the South and West, the opportunity to make this image presented itself, and he seized upon it. After visualizing the image he wanted to create, he used his pioneering Zone System to place the moon in Zone VII, where it hovers above the sheer edge of Half Dome. By that time, late in Ansel’s career, his photographic techniques were well-established. With Ansel’s characteristic use of contrast, we see the delicate, almost lacy variations in the rock face, and the late afternoon shadow seems to carve negative space out of the dome’s monolith.
As one of Ansel Adams’ iconic and enduring masterpieces, “Moon and Half Dome” stands out as an example of his later and most mature work. The majority of photographs synonymous with Adams’ oeuvre – “Moonrise, Hernandez”, “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome”, “The Tetons and Snake River” and many more – were created during Ansel’s earlier years. As older age forced some of the dogged treks and “mountain-goat” climbs that he so loved farther from reach, he found greater creative freedom in his darkroom. Indeed, though Ansel’s photographic output slowed with age, his love of photography only grew.
As Andrea Stillman explains in Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs: “Adams photographed less and less in this period, but he printed more and more. Unlike photographers who work with professional labs, Adams made every print himself, and in the last decade of his life, from 1974 to 1984, he could be found almost every morning in his state-of-the-art darkroom making prints to fill the hundreds of orders from individuals and galleries. When he was not in the darkroom, he devoted his time to working on books and exhibitions of his photographs, revising his technical books, teaching, and tackling conservation issues. He was happiest when his days brimmed over with people and projects.” (Stillman, Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs, p. 378)
“Moon and Half Dome” is a testament to the artistic refinement and confidence that comes with age. Here, it shows his outlook on photography in its finest and purest light, where only the elements he wished to highlight are visible – just the moon, the rock face, and the artist’s intent. Likewise, it is a testament to the energy and artistic vigor that Ansel was capable of in his later years – and to the enduring, timeless quality of Yosemite National Park’s natural beauty. This image remains an iconic reminder of Ansel’s gift to all who love nature, and to the art of photography.