Ansel Adams brought a new dimension of perspective to black and white photography. With the 100th anniversary of his birth, it should be remembered that his generation saw the harm being done by uncontrolled harvesting of the giant redwoods, and he began to document the primitive areas of the West on film to at least preserve the memories of those places.
He and John Muir trekked through the wilderness in all the seasons. They packed bulky wooden view cameras and sturdy tripods. Through their skillfully rendered black and white photographs, they STIRRED the people and eventually the President to action - action that created national parks and national forests that to this day retain their beauty for future generations to enjoy.
Ansel Adams, through experimentation, developed the Zone System of exposing film, followed by the Ten Shades of Gray method of developing pictures. He became the master of manipulating the picture printing process to reproduce his vision of the subject. It took him hours and hours, with several projectors at times, to produce the fine art renditions of familiar landmarks like "Half Dome" in Yosemite Valley. He composed, cropped, dodged, burned and layered his work in new ways to achieve his goal. Part of his collection of negatives resides in the University of New Mexico Archives, and, on rare occasions, is made available to photography students at that college. His techniques of creating photographs and the product of his life's work are preserved in the tradition of museums that protect and display fine art.
Every time we take a picture in the Sierra Wilderness, we honor the memory of Ansel Adams for his pioneering work in Fine Art Photography. Today we are at a new threshold. Electronic imaging with digital cameras, picture enhancement or manipulation via computer software, digital printing with Ink Jet Printers, or transmitting pictures to Grandma via the Internet is our new frontier. Photography is not diminishing with the advent of new technology. Rather, it is expanding at a rapid pace as more people discover they too can now avail themselves of the services once reserved for corporations or agencies that required large sums of money and agonizing schedules to produce photographic products.
Chemical darkrooms are still economically producing prizewinning photographs from basic cameras. One-hour photo shops and Hollywood color labs are producing striking pictures and slides of every category. Today digital cameras, home computers, scanners, Ink Jet printers and reasonably priced software allow one person, in his/her own home to produce fine art pictures either from a hybrid system of film camera and digital processing, or with a totally digital "work flow."
The choices continue to expand, with the challenge being one of embracing new techniques, buying new equipment and learning new processes, or, alternatively, improving on the traditional methods like Ansel Adams did. In either case, as it has always been in our society, "learning" is the key to achieving our goals.