ANSEL ADAMS: Classic Images
Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California, 1927
To learn more about this photograph see the information below. To see a larger view of this image as an Acrobat Reader PDF file, click on the image...
This image is copyrighted by The Ansel Adams Publishing
Rights Trust and cannot be printed or reproduced in any way. The
use of the photograph is limited to viewing in the context of this
Plate 2 in Ansel Adams - Classic Images
Main Source: Examples - The Making of 40 Photographs by Ansel Adams, pp 2-4
A. How did Adams arrive at taking this photograph?
When Adams was twenty-five and weighed 125 pounds he spent a day climbing with friends and his fiancee, Virginia. He carried a great deal of photographic equipment. "Those were the days when I could climb thousands of feet with a heavy pack and think nothing of it .nothing daunted us."
When about noon they finally reached a view of Half Dome, it was in
full shadow. Adams describes it in Elements as a "wondrous
a great shelf of granite, slightly overhanging, and nearly
4000 feet above its base
the most exciting subject awaiting me."
But he had already used or ruined nine of the twelve plates he carried
that day. "In early mid-afternoon, while the sun was creeping upon
it, I set up and composed my image
I did not have much space to
move about in: an abyss was on my left, rocks and brush on my right."
B. How did Adams visualize Monolith?
What he saw was "the majesty of the sculptural shape of the Dome in the solemn effect of half sunlight and half shadow." After taking the shot he realized that what he saw in his mind's eye would not be properly conveyed with the yellow filter he used. Now he had only one plate left. It had to work.
"I saw the photograph as a brooding form, with deep shadows and
a distant sharp white peak against a dark sky." He realized that
the only way to achieve this visualization was to use a deep red filter.
Since the red filter reduced the light by a factor of 16, to allow enough
light to hit the negative he had to keep the shutter open for a 5 seconds.
"Fortunately there was no wind to disturb the camera during the
C. Was Monolith significant to Adams' "visualization" theory?
On this day in the early part of his career, Adams began to develop
the theory of "visualization" that led to the Zone system.
"This photograph represents my first conscious visualization; in
my mind's eye I saw (with reasonable completeness) the final image as
made with the red filter
The red filter did what I expected it
to do." His knowledge of filters allowed him to produce a negative
in which the sky is dark, creating the dramatic effect that corresponded
with his feeling about the scene.
D. How was his visualization carried out in the dark room?
Adams said he was able to "apply the numerous controls of the
craft in precise ways that contribute to achieving the desired result."
Adams continues to explain in Elements, "I can still recall
the excitement of seeing the visualization 'come true' when I removed
the plate from the fixing bath for examination. The desired values were
all there in their beautiful negative interpretation. This was one of
the most exciting moments of my photographic career."
E. Did Adams almost lose the negative of Monolith in a fire?
Adams suffered a serious loss of his work in a darkroom fire in1937.
He and a couple of friends with whom he had just returned from a hiking
trip south of Yosemite, managed to save a good number, but many early
images were burned. They spent several days washing and drying the salvaged
ones. In Examples Adams describes, "The negative of Monolith
was slightly damaged on the top and left-hand edge, and it was necessary
to trim off about 1/4 inch from each
The negative is still printable
is especially effective in a very large (40 X 50 inch) print."
G. Related links in this site
Housatonic Museum of Art