Why Ansel Adams’ photography remains popular
Why does Adams’ work remain enormously popular? I think the simple answer is authenticity. He had a concept of what he was about and what he believed, and his work is a perfect reflection of that concept.
He followed through what he intended to do. He went from what he called ‘pre-visualisation’ to execution with perfect craftsmanship and I think that resonates with us because it’s essentially a timeless human value.
It’s the same in other art forms. We read Shakespeare’s work and it still resonates because of the integrity of the artist. Classical Greek sculpture is thousands of years old, but its beauty is timeless and it still thrills us today.
We value it because it represents the core of what it means to be human in its highest aspiration.
I think Adams’ work reflects those values. It’s great work, though I know many people might feel it’s not particularly innovative photographically.
It doesn’t break new ground in the way that Man Ray did, or Edward Weston, in terms of the way that they tackled subject-matter.
He was working within a traditional genre of landscape but I just think he took it to a level that was unprecedented at the time. I think it’s debatable whether it’s been matched since, but he was the first to take the notion of ‘straight’ photography to that kind of level.
Adams was fully versed in the musical concepts of harmony, rhythm and the tonal scale and that comes through in his photographic work.
There is a poise, a grace, an elegance about his compositions and the way they’re drawn across the frame that just give great pleasure when we look at them.
Adams was in many ways the consummate master craftsman photographer. I wouldn’t say that he produced endless masterpieces; like other photographers he made aesthetic mistakes and had off-days.
But the pictures that stand the test of time, that are his icons, are and will always be inspirational.
Joe Cornish was talking to Alan Brodie