A Tribute to Ansel Adams

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1932

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1932

During my first few days here in Bellevue, I went to the library with Susie. I wasn’t quite sure what to get, but then I found myself perusing the photography section. Before I knew it, I was caught up in some Ansel Adams books. Since we had just finished our road-trip up the coast, of which we spent a few days in Yosemite, I still had the Ansel Adams gallery on my mind I suppose.

As I began looking through books about his work, I found one entitled Ansel Adams: Letters and Images 1916-1984 (a New York Graphic Society Book). I started reading a letter Ansel Adams wrote on the first page I flipped too. It immediately sucked me in. It reads as follows:

Yosemite National Park
June 10, 1937 

Dear Cedric,

A strange thing happened to me today. I saw a big thundercloud move down over Half Dome, and it was so big and clear and brilliant that it made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me; things that related to those who are loved and those who are real friends.

For the first time I know what love is; what friends are; and what are should be.

Love is seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things. children are not only of flesh and blood–children may be ideas, thoughts, emotions. The person of the one who is loved is a form composed of a myriad mirrors reflecting and illuminating the powers and the thoughts and the emotions that are within you, and flashing another kind of light from within. No words or deeds may encompass it.

Friendship is another form of love–more passive perhaps, but full of transmitting and acceptances of things like thunderclouds and grass and the clean reality of granite.

Art is both love and friendship, and understanding; the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of Things, it is more than kindness which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light the inner folds of awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and meen, and of all the inter-relations of these.

I wish the thundercloud had moved up over Tahoe and let loose on you; I could wish you nothing finer.


Cedric Wright was a photographer and violinist. He was also a very close friend to Ansel.

I’ve been meaning to blog about the letter and the book since I stumbled on them. Now that the book is finally due to be returned, I’ve gotten to blogging about it.

As I read more of Ansel’s letters I began to realize how poetic he was. The letters to his wife before and after marriage were deeply romantic. He wrote many letters to friends, family and mentors. It became clear to me why he was such a great photographer: He had perspective, love, passion, an eye for beauty. He was meditative, patient, a true mountaineer, friend and lover in all regards.

While I don’t think the words of Ansel’s letter (and letters) are the greatest ever written, they are very insightful and have helped me gain greater appreciation for who Ansel Adams was, as more than just a photographer.

Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, April 17, 1927

Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, April 17, 1927

UPDATE: You might be wondering why I selected these two images of his many great works. The first was the image that followed the letter I cited in the book. It seems to represent what Adams saw when he talked about the thundercloud moving over Half Dome.

The second picture was one that he took from the “diving board” I believe he called it, which is a point on the mountain just below half dome that over looks the river and Mirror Lake (I think?) below. In one of his romantic, poetic letters to Virginia (Adams’ wife), Adams mentioned how he longed to bask in the sun with her at the diving board. It was a place of some significance to both of them. Later he captured the image referenced and it has since become quite famous. At first the image seemed insignificant to me, but given the story behind the place it was captured and its significance to Adams and his wife, it is has since become a favorite of mine.

I often look at photographs that seem so simple and wonder “why this picture?” I’ve found with Adams, there is often a beautiful story that answers that question.