Ansel Adams has been an inspiration to me since I was a young man interested in photography more than 40 years ago. The first time I really examined his images I was a high school student trying to find my way in the film-based world of photography. I can remember trying to emulate the great master on many occasions, trying to keep my highlights intact while still revealing detail in the shadows. I had read about the Zone System that made Ansel Adams so famous, but I had little luck both behind the camera and in the darkroom while attempting to create something even close to the quality of his work.
The two images that have always fascinated me in the Adams' gallery are “Moonrise over Hernandez,” his iconic photograph of the moon rising over a small New Mexico church and graveyard. Three times I have tried to find the location where he shot this image, and three times I have failed. Standing in Hernandez, just off of Highway 285 near Espanola, I can see the mountains that form the foundation of his famous picture, but the graveyard and the church have remained hidden. I know they have to be there somewhere along that stretch of New Mexico landscape, and someday I will find it. Then I will make the trip when the moon is three-quarters full, and I will do my best to emulate the man who set many so many standards for contemporary photographers.
The second photo that commands my attention from Adams is his 1942 image of the Snake River in the Grand Teton range. Viewing this image online or in a printed book does not do it justice. I once saw a print of Adams “Moonrise” photograph, and the detail is astounding. That he was able to create that degree of detail and quality on a film camera using 1940s technology is remarkable indeed. No better photographer and darkroom technician has ever lived.
In June of 2015, I followed in Ansel Adams footsteps along the Snake River. Using a high-end digital camera, a tripod, and a little electronic imaging software, I rose at the break of dawn and made my way to the Snake River Overlook. I even slept in my car the night before to insure that the early morning sunrise would not escape me.
As the sun broke over those glorious mountains, the landscape came alive. Shadows danced off the water and the trees became energized with raw light. The sky held just the right amount of clouds and texture. I rapidly clicked image after image, well aware of how short-lived that amazing light would linger. I watched images form on my camera's digital sensor and I wondered if this was how Ansel felt nearly 70 years ago as he worked from the very spot on which I was now standing. Ansel's image created a legacy. Whatever legacy I create with my photographs remains to be seen.
This photograph is the result of my work on the Snake River. The fact that Ansel Adams created his image on film and in a darkroom is incomprehensible. He was a true master and craftsman. I only seek to emulate what his genius created so many years ago. This is my tribute to Ansel Adams.