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Ansel Adams, American, (1902–1982)
Winter Sunrise, The Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, California, 1944
Photographic materials on paper
24 x 28 in. (60.96 x 71.12 cm)

Object Type: Photography
Technique: Photography
Credit Line: Gift of Virginia Adams
Accession Number: 2013.5.20

Ansel Adams’ iconic photography has shaped and influenced America’s idea of the wilderness. His appreciation of nature started early, in his native San Francisco, but it was his frequent visits to Yosemite as an adolescent that fostered the love of the wilderness that led to his interest in photography. Although Adams is most well known as a photographer, he was also an avid activist for the environment. His participation in the Sierra Club as a young adult gave him the opportunity to publish his first photographs and writings in the club’s 1922 Bulletin. In 1928, his first one-man exhibition was held in the Sierra Club’s San Francisco headquarters. Adams moved away from the “pictorial” style favored in the 1920s and pursued “straight” photography instead. In straight photography, clarity of the lens is emphasized, and there is no sense of the work having been manipulated in the camera or dark room. To achieve this effect, Adams developed the famous, and highly complex, “zone system” of controlling and relating exposure and development. This enabled him to visualize an image and then produce a photograph that matched that exact visualization. Adams was the original Photoshop master, decades before it even existed. This technique, along with the absence of humans as subjects and the dearth of humanity in his landscape photographs, is often critiqued as lacking realism. Yet, for almost a century, his images have inspired Americans to preserve the wilderness he loved to photograph.

Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine is a testament to Adams’ technique. Adams’ careful attention to natural light while shooting, as well as his work in the dark room, showcases a full spectrum of values and highlights. The stark white, jagged lines of the mountains stand out against the soft gray of the sky above and the rolling hills below. The foothills are blanketed by a dark shadow that Adams manipulated to remove any details. Below the hills is a line of trees with a sliver of a meadow in the foreground. A spotlight shines on a section of the meadow where a horse grazes. Behind the horse, the lighting highlights a row of leafless trees, turning them into glowing, bonelike beings. The varying light and dark composition endures as a mystical and enchanting image of the wilderness. Adams uses his visualization techniques to create a rich and powerful landscape scene that inspires the viewer to share in the beauty of nature.

Kaela Nurmi ’15
Wilson Intern 2013

Ansel Adams wanted to capture the motion of landscape in an inherently static medium, photography. Through patience alone, Adams could document time’s passage across the natural world. This photograph was taken on the fifth morning that he shot the rising sun over the Sierra Nevada. Only on this fifth occasion did the lighting perfectly capture both the vast, mountainous landscape in the foreground while casting a beautiful shadow across the land in the foreground. The shadow blotting the hill out in the foreground makes the Sierra Nevada all the more tremendous. In Adams’s photography, one can only admire the enduring qualities of nature by looking at the fleeting, here represented by a horse grazing in a spot of light, and a sunrise five mornings in the making.

David Kuhio Ahia, PO ’18
Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern

Between 1978 and his death in 1984, Ansel Adams created a special inventory of fine photographic prints of his most important and favorite images. Adams created these prints in order to make his work more available to a wide range of institutions for public display and educational purposes as part of their permanent collections. These prints were sold in sets to individuals, corporations, and institutions suject to the written agreement that each set would not be sold on the open market, bu rather would be donated to institutions for public display and educational purposes. These sets of fine prints became known as the Ansel Adams Museum Sets.

Some of the institutions that have received gifts of Museum Set prints include The National Gallery of Art, the Wilderness Society, the Stanford art Museum, the de Young Museum, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Cornell University, and Princeton University.

The copyright to this work and all works in the Ansel Adams Museum Set is held by the Virginia Adams Charitable Trust.

Scripps College is very pleased to be the recipient of an Ansel Adams Museum Set through the generosity of the Virginia Adams Charitable Trust, created by Adams's wife, Virginia Best Adams. This gift to the Scripps College collection was made directly by the Virginia Adams Charitable Trust.

This work bears the signature of the artist in pencil at the lower right, directly beneath the photo.

gelatin silver print

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