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The article begins describing Ansel Adams’s remarkable photographic legacy even after his death. The technical innovation of Adams’s photography is due to his participation in the exclusive club f/64 in which its members photograph at this high aperture to produce stunningly infinite depth of field. However, Adams has never himself provided an explanation or insight as to why he took his famous landscapes, leading many to question if there is some kind of artistic expression being made. “Adams’s preference for the lens setting ‘f/64’ . . . is important because the resulting depth of field permitted the minutiae of the near foreground to bear the relationship on the grandeur of the distant background,” offers Colin Westerbeck quoted by Hudson. He continues to say, “this mythological conception of nature is, more than any aesthetic debate about photography, what requires sharp focus throughout.”
This claim led to suggest that Adams was influenced by spiritual and religious philosophies which isn’t directly supported, but makes sense in terms of that way John Szarkowski, director of the photography department at MOMA in 2001, categorizes Adams’s conceptual intent. He claims, “Adams did not photograph the landscape as a matter of social service, but as a form of private worship,” (Hudson 291). So rather than trying to perfectly and accurately document a site’s beauty, Szarkowski suggests that his intent was more personal and an exploration of his inner self reflected in the outer world. His claim is furthered by examining the relationship between Adams and the Esalen Institute. The Institute is described in the article as “a center to explore those trends in the behavioral sciences, religion, and philosophy which emphasize the potentialities and values of human existence.”
Reflecting on this, it completely makes sense that his participation at the Esalen Institute influenced his personal desire to reflect within himself some sort of spiritual awakening that can only be best described by the clarity of his landscape photography. I don’t know of any other possible interpretations of his work are as solidly founded as this. Of course, since Adams himself never confessed to any of this, we are still to take this as an interpretation of the work, whether we appreciate his work for its accurate representations of land or whether we connect with his work on a personal spiritual level.
The end of the article mentions that the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust rejected this interpretation of his work because it associated Adams with the counterculture. But, given the timeframe of his given work, it is totally plausible that Adams may have been influenced or a part of the counterculture. Adams’s search of spirituality and expression through nature are themes also common in counterculture. The counterculture, however, used various drugs in order to achieve these sort of insights; it’s not to say that Adams himself took drugs, though I don’t know if there’s any research that may support this, but we absolutely can’t rule it out, especially if Adams himself has never and can never confirm the truth of the matter.
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