I have no idea when I was first entranced by the photos of Ansel Adams. There is a wonderful, luminous quality to his work. Small wonder he is America’s best known landscape photographer. Collections of his work would make a worthy addition to any photographer’s library. This is also the time of year that Ansel Adams calendars pop up like snowstorms.
The best advice I can give you is: Don’t buy any book or calendar with photos by Ansel Adams unless it is published by Little, Brown and Company, or by NYGS (New York Graphic Society, which is also published by Little, Brown).
Because they have an excellent relationship with the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust and they take meticulous care with the reproductions of Adams’ photos which are copyrighted by the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.
Some of Adams’ work is in the public domain (like his work for the U.S. Government), and his public domain work has been published by a number of companies and the reproduction qualities can be very poor. Once upon a time I bought an Ansel Adams calendar (which wasn’t published by Little, Brown/NYGS) and I was surprised by how blurry the photos looked. Live and learn.
Whether you are looking for books or calendars, stick to Little, Brown & NYGS and you won’t be disappointed. Buy from other publishers at your own risk.
But where to begin? My absolute favorite introduction to Adams’ life and photographs is by Andrea G. Stillman who was Adams executive assistant in the 1970s. Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man uses 20 of Adams’ images, some famous and some not so famous, to tell you the story of his life in photography. I leaned things about Adams from this book that I have not read in any other book. Working closely with Adams on a daily basis gave Stillman some unique insights. Like lots of excellent books, this one is out of print, but you can still buy a new or used copy from one of Amazon’s third party sellers in the Ansel Adams section of my photography store which has direct links to Amazon. Every once in a while this book also shows up at Barnes & Noble.
Another good place to start to learn about his images is The Portfolios of Ansel Adams. It has seven portfolios of Adams’ work, each one with 10 or more individual prints. It makes an excellent introduction. I also highly recommend Examples: The Making of Forty Photographs, Yosemite and the High Sierra, and The Grand Canyon and the Southwest. Yosemite and the Range of Light is getter harder to find but click on the link and you can find a copy at Amazon’s used book market place.
For the biggest collection of Adams’ work, get Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs which was put together by Stillman. A beautifully reproduced coffee table book with one photo per page. It is a book to leaf through and savor.
Adams borrowed from his training as a musician when he famously described the negative as the score and the print as the performance. His interpretation of his negatives changed dramatically over the years. Looking at his early interpretations can be surprising, almost shocking when compared to his better know and later interpretations via his prints.These changes have been documented in Ansel Adams at 100 a fascinating collection of his work, edited by John Szarkowski.
If you are looking for a calendar, most any Ansel Adams calendar published by Little, Brown will be a year round feast. If you have the heart and soul of a landscape photographer, it will be hard to look at Adams’ glorious images without wanting to grab your camera and go out and create something wonderful yourself.
An added plus to ordering a wall calendar is you have 12 “prints” to choose from at the end of the year to frame and hang on a wall.
If you want to do black and white film photography, you would be well served to buy Adams’ latest version of his classic set, The Camera, The Negative, and The Print. It is hard to get a matched set of these three books, so you may end up with three different covers.
While not written by Ansel Adams, The Ansel Adams Guide: Basic Techniques of Photography – Book 1 by John P. Schaefer is inspired by Adams, draws on his books and photos and is an excellent introduction to black and white film photography.
The best place to buy prints and posters of Adams’ photographs is at the official Ansel Adams Gallery. The prices are quite reasonable and the reproduction qualities are excellent. Large posters are $20 – $30 unframed. Archival replicas (digitally created) start at $129. For a unique gift, “Yosemite Special Edition Photographs” are individually printed from the original negatives and are $295 unframed. If money is no object, you can by originals printed by Ansel Adams in a price range between $8,000 and $50,000.
This is one in a series of articles that will guide you to the best of all things photographic. The rest are here: Buyer’s Guide: Recommendations For The Best Photography Equipment, Software, Books, Magazines, DVDs, Online Photo Labs and More.