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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...

Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California, 1927 by Ansel Adams

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 web site.

 

 
Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California, 1927

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?
B. How did Adams visualize Monolith?
C. Was Monolith significant to Adams' "visualization theory?
D. How was his visualization carried out in the dark room?
E. Did Adams almost lose the negative of Monolith in a fire?
F. Technical Aspects
G. Related links in this site


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 place… 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."
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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 long exposure."
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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.
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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."
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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…and is especially effective in a very large (40 X 50 inch) print."
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F. Technical Aspects
  • Camera: 6 1/2 by 8 1/2 Korona View camera
  • Glass plates: Wratten Panchromatic
  • Lens: Tesar formula lens of 8 1/2 focal length
  • Filter: red Wratten No. 29 filter
  • Exposure: 5 seconds at f/22

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G. Related links in this site

  • Resources:
    • See Bibliography for more material by and about Ansel Adams. For more information on the technical aspects - cameras, films, lenses, filters, darkroom techniques, printing, papers, etc. - please refer to Examples, The Making of 40 Photographs by Ansel Adams (Boston, Toronto, London: Little, Brown and Co, 1983).
    • See Glossary: for definitions of vocabulary words and photography terms.

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Housatonic Museum of Art
Housatonic Community College
900 Lafayette Blvd.
Bridgeport, CT 06604
For information call Robbin Zella, Director, 203-332-5052