Book review #6: Ansel Adams – 400 Photographs

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Cover image - Book review #6 - Ansel Adams - 400 photographs-

Ansel Adams - 400 photographs

Book review verdict: Add it to your bookshelf

Title: Ansel Adams: 400 photographs

Published by: Little, Brown (First edition: 2007; 7th Printing: 2019)

ISBN: 978-0-316-11772-2

Price: $27 from Little, Brown – £14.99 from Amazon

Article type: Book review

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Cover image - Book review #6 - Ansel Adams - 400 photographs-

This book is packed with images by Adams, offering a one-stop shop for those looking to study the work of one of the greats, or simply to get some inspiration.

While Adams is justifiably famous for his landscape images, this book also showcases his forays into other genres, including portrait, environmental portrait, architectural, aerial, and still life.

For students of photography, the book provides much hope and encouragement. We are told that it took Adams 11 years before he “pre-visualized” an image for the first time, confirming that even the greats have to learn to see.

Stillman’s skilful editing of the book ensures that readers are presented with solid confirmation that Adams continued to work on improving his output over the years; a lesson for all photographers.

The book also makes it abundantly clear how portrait photography, and lighting, has evolved over the years. Adams’ early portrait attempts placed his subjects’ eyes in shadow, rather than making them a point of sharp focus, as is the norm today.

The portraits of Adams that are used within the book also show a mugshot-like approach that was apparently the norm for the time.

Included in the book is a portrait of Mexican artist Jose Clemente, shown wearing spectacles. Light reflects off Clemente’s lenses, suggesting that Adams was not yet comfortable dealing with unwanted reflection. This image is also the first portrait in the book that does not hide the eyes in shadow.

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As the book introduces photographs taken through the decades, we are introduced to Adams’ evolving approach to his landscapes, particularly with regard to placing the horizon in an image. Indeed, the very introduction of this point within the text moves the reader to consider the horizon in many of the books’ images. This will reveal, if it was not already apparent, that Adams often placed the horizon quite high in his images, and he also left very little clearance at the top of many of his photographs, creating potential points of tension for the viewer. The book includes 2 images of one location, printed across one spread, that allow the reader to easily view the effect of repositioning the horizon. 

One particularly eye-catching image is Adams’ “Barn, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, 1942”, which includes a picket fence in the foreground. This could well be Adams giving a nod to Paul Strand’s “White Fence” of 1916. Adams was, after all, quite taken with Strand’s work.

Included portraits include some famous names in photography and art, such as Georgia O’Keefe (with Orville Cox), Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and Gottardo Piazzoni, adding significant value to the book.

It is always worth studying the work of others, and this book provides an excellent insight into Adams’ approach to photography. Stillman has done an excellent job of editing this work, revealing Adams’ evolution as a photographer over the decades, and showcasing photographs across several genres. For those who only know of Adams through his landscapes, this book provides an introduction to several new dimensions to the master photographer’s capabilities.

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Informative notes on selected images are also included in the book. The book would have been strengthened by notes on all included images.

Before you go, why not take a look at my own picket fence image, which is definitely a nod to Strand’s White Fence, in my Dubai – Old police housing 2018 gallery?

Remember that reading books on your chosen subject counts toward continuing professional development (CPD) activities and hours. To find out about other CPD activities, please visit our CPD section.

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