The Story of Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine

Examples, The Making of 40 Photographs, p164, Little, Brown and Co. (excerpted)

Manzanar, the site of one of the World War II relocation camps, is about fifteen miles north of Lone Pine. While I was photographing in and around the camp in 1943 and 1944 I made some of my best images. I knew the region well; it is roughly 150 miles from Yosemite over the Tioga Pass – or 400 road miles southward when the Tioga is closed by snow.

While at Manzanar for a fortnight in the winter of 1944, Virginia and I arose very early in the mornings and drove to Lone Pine with hopes of a sunrise photograph of the Sierra. After four days of frustration when the mountains were blanketed with heavy cloud, I finally encountered a bright, glistening sunrise with light clouds streaming from the southeast and casting swift moving shadows on the meadow and the dark rolling hills.

I set up my camera on my car platform at what I felt was the best location, overlooking a pasture. It was very cold – perhaps near zero – and I waited, shivering, for a shaft of sunlight to flow over the distant trees. A horse grazing in the frosty pasture stood facing away from me with exasperating, stolid persistence. I made several exposures of moments of light and shadow, but the horse was uncooperative, resembling a distant stump. I observed the final shaft of light approaching. At the last moment, the horse turned to show its profile, and I made the exposure. Within a minute the entire area was flooded with sunlight and the natural chiaroscuro was gone.

The negative of Winter Sunrise is rather complex to print. It is a problem of agreeable balance between the brilliant snow on the peaks and the dark shadowed hills.

I have often thought what a privilege it would be to live and work in this environment, perhaps best before the turn of the century when the efforts of man brought more beauty to the land than now, with our pavements, wires, contrails, and desolation.  This photograph suggests a more agreeable past and may remind us that, with a revived dignity and reverence for the earth, more of the world might look like this again.

Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada

Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, California, before the removal of the L P, Dennis Purcell

“The enterprising youth of the Lone Pine High School had climbed the rocky slopes of the Alabama Hills and whitewashed a huge white L P for the world to see. It is a hideous and insulting scar on one of the great vistas of our land, and shows in every photograph made of the area. I ruthlessly removed what I could of the L P from the negative (in the left-hand hill), and have always spotted out any remaining trace in the print. I have been criticized by some for doing this, but I am not enough of a purist to perpetuate the scar and thereby destroy – for me, at least – the extraordinary beauty and perfection of the scene.” Ansel Adams

Close-up of the L P on the hill.

Computer generated image of Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, showing the L P, Dennis Purcell

Ansel Adams 400 Photographs, p422, Little, Brown and Co.

On four successive mornings, Adams tried to take this photograph of the east side of the Sierra. On the fifth day, it was still dark and bitterly cold when he set up his camera on the new platform on top of his car and retreated to the warm interior. As dawn drew near, he returned to the camera to await the sun’s first rays on the meadow. “I finally encountered a bright, glistening sunrise with light clouds streaming from the southeast and casting swift moving shadows on the meadow and dark rolling hills.” At the last possible moment, the horse turned to offer a profile view. Many years later he wrote, Sometimes I think I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter?”

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