Today is the 108th anniversary of Ansel Adams' birth, and I shall absolutely (though not with Absolut) hoist a glass to this towering and troubling icon of 20th century photography. Why troubling?... because, during decades of cataclysmic world turmoil and disaster, Adams chose to primarily record and interpret the majestic, the grand, the intimate, and the serene. (although his Myanmar series of the lives or interred Japanese Americans is a significant exception). So what? Well, there are many who feel that that was an abdication of a photographer's perceived responsibility to record the depth of the world's abyss. I disagree. There were wonderful photographers who did that wonderfully. All are not called to do the same thing. To offer what Adams offered was to expand beyond the tragic reality of the moment and invite the viewer into a more uplifting, tranquil and peaceful world. Bringing those now iconic scenes to the people's attention was significantly instrumental in furthering the public and governmental will to preserve and protect them. Over the course of decades, that contribution has becaome as important as that of any of the American photographers who recorded the depths of the 20th century's tragedies from its wars to the FSA's record of the depression and its aftermath.
Adams is also responsible for nudging photography into the mainstream of "art". Others, like Stieglitz, Steichen, and the Westons did that as well, but without the mass appeal that Adams was able to command. Adams wrote articles in mainstream photo magazines, and proffered suggestions for better photography to a public eager to be informed. Other 20th century icons did far less beyond production of their work. Hence, Adams' work has become a touchstone for what most people think of as a black and white photograph. (Try passing a poster and frame shop in any mall and not see AA's work prominently displayed.) Many still place their tripods on Ansel's marks, but very, very few reinvent what he had the marvelous vision to "see".!