CALIFORNIA is arguably the best compilation of Ansel Adams' work ever produced. The design of the large-format book is striking, elegant and restrained. Especially effective are the widely spaced lines of delicate sans serif type. The luxurious coated stock is very heavy and very glossy. The quality of the the roughly 100 big black-and-white duotone reproductions is extraordinary, the result, as it is, of cutting edge laser-scanning technology. Their sharpness, their bite and vividness, the richness and depth of their blacks and the brightness of their brights perfectly convey the essence of Adams' aesthetic ethos and vision and nonpareil technical skills. The texts of most books on Adams' work are chiefly concerned with how the photographs were made, and on the artist's intentions. CALIFORNIA has none of that. Instead, it features brief writings about the Golden State by a disparate array of authors, including, among others, Walt Whitman, John McPhee, Henry Miller and, quite unexpectedly, Emily Post. Certainly, these additions enhance the book's general appeal, but one wonders how comfortable Adams would have been with this approach, since his photographs speak so eloquently for themselves and don't require any verbal support whatsoever. Ansel Adams was probably the greatest landscape photographer who has ever lived and landscapes pedominate in this book. But he excelled with other kinds of pictures as well - portraits, buildings, outdoor still lives, etc. - and this splendid volume records the full range of his amazing talent.
If you are like me, you feel you know work work of Ansel Adams quite well. Well, this book was a pleasant surprise in that it introduced me to many rewarding works that I had not seen before. These evoked many happy memories for me, and added to my delight in knowing California.
I was born and raised in California, so most of these scenes are ones that are familiar to me. Surprisingly, these were the first good photographs I had ever seen of many of the scenes, even though the scenes captured by the camera are often common ones.
The book contains a great deal of text that attempts to expand one's understanding of California, both as a physical and as a psychological place. If you have never been to California, you may find these useful. If you know California, they may seem redundant to the images. The authors include Richard Henry Dana, Jr., John Steinbeck, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry Miller, Joan Dideon, and Mark Twain. The texts are well chosen and appropriate, if sometimes superfluous.
The notes by the editor, Ms. Stillman, were helpful. "It was light that inspired Ansel to photograph . . . ." "He worked almost exclusively at dawn or sunset . . . " because the light was more vivid then. Here is a quote from Adams, "The silver light turned every blade of grass and every particle of sand into a luminous metallic spendor . . . ." Few have ever captured magnificence in black and white as well as Adams did.
Some of my favorite images included:
Trailer-Camp Children, Richmond, 1944
Hull of Wrecked Ship, Breakers, Drake's Bay, 1953
Forest, Castle Rock State Park, 1962
Pasture, Sonoma County, 1951
Clearing Storm, Sonoma County Hills, 1951
Mount Lassen from the devastated area, 1949
Redwoods, Bull Creek Flat, 1960
Edward Weston, Carmel Highlands, 1945
Surf and Rock, Monterey County Coast, 1945
Window, Robert Louis Stevenson House, Monterey, 1953
Orchard, Santa Clara, 1954
Dead Oak Tree, Sierra Foothills, 1938
Sunrise, Death Valley, 1948
Manley Beacon, Death Valley, 1948
Sand Fence, Near Keeler, 1948
Yosemite Valley View, 1944
Half Dome (Winter) from Glacier Point, 1940
El Capitan, 1952
Jeffrey Pine, Yosemite, 1945
Dawn, Mount Whitney, 1932
My enjoyment of the book was increased by nine images of Ansel Adams working by Dorothea Lange from 1953.
Why, then, did I rate the book at 4 stars, rather than 5?
Basically, the book design is all wrong. The size of the images are either too small for their grandeur and subject, or are reproduced across two pages with a crease in the middle. Although the paper and reproduction quality are excellent, the basic layout and page size are wrong. Perhaps a future edition will remedy that problem.
I also found the introduction by Page Stegner to be too much about California and not enough about Adams.
I do recommend that you examine this book. I'm not sure whether or not you will want to purchase it or not. The sizing of the images does spoil the effects quite a bit.
After you have finished enjoying many "new to you" Ansel Adams images, I suggest that you plan a trip to visit those places you are most inspired by. Take along your camera and see what wonderful photographs you can take now at dawn or dusk, with him as your teacher.
Live in the golden glow of California wherever you are!
Absolutely superb reproductions of many 'new' and previously unpublished photographs .... stunning. I agree with the pevious reviewer in this respect. However, in my view the 'design' of the book is a disaster, and the potential enjoyment of this book seriously compromised. The adoption of a 'portrait' format for a collection of predominantly 'landscape' format images is perverse, and has meant that undersize images are surrounded top and/or bottom by acres of white paper, the image generally runs off the side of the page, all of which gives an unbalanced and uncontained appearance Worse still are the images that are reproduced across two pages (albeit at a very much more satisfactory size), with the crease of the spine in the image. AA had very clear views, as to how his images should be displayed, or published, he would surely not have countenanced this outrageous act of disrespect of his work. Should there be any more AA anthologies in the pipeline - and there must be given the huge quantity of his work as yet unseen, then I urge that a designer be used who actually understands the impact of design in use, respects the content of the book, and is able to enhance it, rather than compromise it as here. It is a shame that the book is not larger, and perhaps of a square format. I would still have have bought it, even at twice the price, and not regretted the purchase