Ansel Adams, 'Frozen Lake and Cliffs

Ansel Adams, 'Frozen Lake and Cliffs

Ansel Adams
'Frozen Lake and Cliffs, Sierra Nevada'
Museum no. 590-1975

The Photograph

This photograph was taken in 1932 and shows Adams's confident transition into 'straight' (unmanipulated) photography. In it, he creates very sharp images with a full tonal range. Adams recollected that it was difficult to anticipate the best exposure for the image when there were areas of deep shade and blinding sunlight. He developed the 'zone system', which was a framework for understanding exposure and development, and visualising their effect in advance. The printing of the image was also complicated.

'[Adams's] method was to divide the basic exposure into two parts, just burning in the foreground reflection area starting from the top of the ice, then burning the cliffs starting from the bottom of the ice ... Thus the ice receives about twice the exposure given to the cliffs and the reflection area.' Ansel Adams, 'Examples', Little, Brown, 1983

This illustrates Adams's belief that making prints involved using controls and manipulations in order to produce an image approximating what he saw and felt when he made the exposure, representing both the photographer's internal emotions and the external beauty of a scene.

The Photographer

Ansel Adams had begun to visit the Sierra Nevada when he was 14. He was deeply affected by the grandeur of the landscape, and the conservation and depiction of the Sierra's beauty became a lifelong passion. He had begun to explore the landscape with a camera in the mid 1910s, but it was not until the early 1930s that he devoted himself to a career as a photographer (Adams was a very talented pianist and had seriously considered this his vocation until this point).

He produced images of the monolithic and also the tiny details of the natural forms in the Sierra Nevada as well as other impressive landscapes in, for example, New Mexico. Increasingly through the 1920s his photographs lost any stylistic association with Pictorialist photography as he came to believe that highly detailed, 'straight' photography could best represent the photographer's relationship to the external world.

Throughout his working life he published books of his photographs as well as technical guides. He also taught photography and was instrumental in setting up the Centre for Creative Photography in Arizona. In 1975 he announced that he would no longer take orders for his photographs from commercial galleries and would only produce prints for non-profit making organisations, such as museums. He died in 1984. The following year a peak in Yosemite National Park was named Mount Ansel Adams.


This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 13b.