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National Geographic Photographer Pays a Stunning Tribute to Ansel Adams’ Work

At sunrise the Minarets reflect in a small pond near Cecile Lake.

At sunrise the Minarets reflect in a small pond near Cecile Lake.

It’s been just over three decades since the passing of Ansel Adams, but his legacy lives on in the hearts and minds (and on many of the walls) of those he inspired. One of those people, noted National Geographic photographer Peter Essick, decided to pay tribute to the renowned Group f/64 master.

Essick revisited Ansel Adams’ ‘playground’ to pay homage to the scenery Adams captured several decades before. Traveling through the Ansel Adam Wilderness, an area in the Sierra Nevada of California that is named in Adams’ honor, Essick composed photographs in what might be considered the “Ansel Adams style,” ultimately compiling the fruits of his labor into a book titled, The Ansel Adams Wilderness.

The Milky Way and Banner Peak shine in the moonlight from Summit Lake.

The Milky Way and Banner Peak shine in the moonlight from Summit Lake.

In the introduction to his book, Essick speaks to the motivation behind this project:

Like Adams, I am a native Californian familiar with the High Sierra, and some of my first successful photos were of this wilderness area (located between Yosemite National Park and Mammoth Lakes, and renamed for Adams following his death in 1984). For 25 years I have traveled throughout the world as a photographer for National Geographic magazine, but the High Sierra always has had a special place in my heart.

Using the stopped down, zone-system approach to his photographs, Essick almost perfectly replicates the monochrome aesthetic of the work that both literally and figuratively put Ansel Adams on the map, without copying him outright or “standing in the same tripod holes,” so to speak.

Today, we have the honor of presenting a collection of images from the book, with permission from Essick, himself. Before you dive in, however, we do have a couple of suggestions.

First: scroll slowly, so that you might better savor the work. And second: when you’re done, be sure to head over to Amazon and secure yourself a copy of The Ansel Adams Wilderness for a steal at only $18.

Young aspen trees sprout in a meadow near Parker Lake.

Young aspen trees sprout in a meadow near Parker Lake.

Winds of up to 50 miles per hour move up a ridge near Summit Lake.

Winds of up to 50 miles per hour move up a ridge near Summit Lake.

Trees frame granite cliffs reflected in Cabin Lake.

Trees frame granite cliffs reflected in Cabin Lake.

The sun sets over Dana Lake’s outflow waters.

The sun sets over Dana Lake’s outflow waters.

Sunrise highlights the granite islands of Thousand Island Lake.

Sunrise highlights the granite islands of Thousand Island Lake.

Summer runoff cascades in Shadow Creek at dusk.

Summer runoff cascades in Shadow Creek at dusk.

Sleet from an October storm blankets aspen trees near Parker Lake.

Sleet from an October storm blankets aspen trees near Parker Lake.

Shadows from afternoon light darken fresh snow near Gem Lake.

Shadows from afternoon light darken fresh snow near Gem Lake.

Shadow Lake remains shrouded as the morning sun hits the mountains beyond.

Shadow Lake remains shrouded as the morning sun hits the mountains beyond.

Reflections of the sun form streaks in a small stream near the Clark Lakes.

Reflections of the sun form streaks in a small stream near the Clark Lakes.

Reflections break the dawn’s stillness on a corner of Cabin Lake.

Reflections break the dawn’s stillness on a corner of Cabin Lake.

Photographed from Nancy Pass, afternoon clouds form behind the Minarets.

Photographed from Nancy Pass, afternoon clouds form behind the Minarets.

Parker Creek flows past aspens shimmering in the October afternoon light.

Parker Creek flows past aspens shimmering in the October afternoon light.

Moonlight shines on a majestic Sierra Juniper near Shadow Lake.

Moonlight shines on a majestic Sierra Juniper near Shadow Lake.

Midday light streams through ripples on to the rocky bottom of the San Joaquin River’s Middle Fork.

Midday light streams through ripples on to the rocky bottom of the San Joaquin River’s Middle Fork.

Grasses fill a small pond near Rush Creek.

Grasses fill a small pond near Rush Creek.

Golden autumn leaves surround an old aspen tree near Parker Lake.

Golden autumn leaves surround an old aspen tree near Parker Lake.

Frost covers an aspen leaf on a cold October morning near Parker Lake.

Frost covers an aspen leaf on a cold October morning near Parker Lake.

Blowing snow surrounds a pine seedling near Summit Lake.

Blowing snow surrounds a pine seedling near Summit Lake.

An early snow melts on the forest floor of an aspen grove near Parker Lake.

An early snow melts on the forest floor of an aspen grove near Parker Lake.

Afternoon thunderclouds rise above Garnet Lake.

Afternoon thunderclouds rise above Garnet Lake.

A white fungus outlines a plant flattened against a rock by winter snow.

A white fungus outlines a plant flattened against a rock by winter snow.

A waning moon sets over the granite cliffs near Donahue Pass.

A waning moon sets over the granite cliffs near Donahue Pass.

A strong summer wind makes whitecaps on Dana Lake.

A strong summer wind makes whitecaps on Dana Lake.

A small, unnamed waterfall flows near the Marie Lakes.

A small, unnamed waterfall flows near the Marie Lakes.

A small piece of ice floats in Iceberg Lake in August.

A small piece of ice floats in Iceberg Lake in August.

A Sierra wave cloud hangs over Rodgers Peak, left, and Mount Lyell.

A Sierra wave cloud hangs over Rodgers Peak, left, and Mount Lyell.

A fierce storm encompasses trees near the Clark Lakes.

A fierce storm encompasses trees near the Clark Lakes.

As a bit of a bonus, below is a 25-minute National Geographic Live presentation that Essick gave in which he shares the journey that lead to the creation of these images. While it is a bit of a long watch, it’s as inspirational and informative as the above photographs are beautiful, so be sure to put it in your queue.

(via Boston.com)


Image credits: Photographs by Peter Essick and used with permission


 
  • Future is Now

    This certainly appears to be magnificent b&w landscape work, very much in the style of Ansel Adams. I’d love to have a print. And mimicry is a form of “tribute”.

    But am I just being cynical by thinking that this is fundamentally not much more than another use of the “Ansel Adams” brand to promote this photographer and National Geographic? I suspect that Ansel Adams’s foundation was paid a royalty for the use of his name, but even so. When is a “tribute” a “ride”?

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Fantastic work. I’ve hiked the Muir Trail and spent a significant amount of time in the area photographed, it’s an amazing place and these images capture it wonderfully.

    Believe it or not, I also hung out with Adams in Yosemite Valley for a week (carried his tripod for a few days). My photography teacher was one of his assistants and printers and got me in. I wasn’t a serious photographer back then, I was in Yosemite to climb, but I knew about Adams and he really was an amazing person as well as an amazing photographer. He made even the most non-technical people in his workshop comfortable and was incredibly supportive. It was a rare treat when we went over to the Ahwahnee Hotel for afternoon tea and he played the piano. He was seriously good. What a guy.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    Beautiful stuff – one side note – Ansel’s work is beautiful online (I realize this isn’t his work) but wanted to note that if you’ve never had an opportunity to see his actual prints, make an effort to do so – they are breathtaking in person.

  • amiright

    Pics or it didn’t happen.

    (Kidding.)

  • http://www.betweenthesprockets.com Jason Muspratt

    Is it just me, or does “Young aspen trees sprout in a meadow near Parker Lake.” really seem like the odd one out here. Am I missing something?

  • nikonian

    Beautiful pictures but they seem to be missing something. A large format film camera just looks different…

  • 4dmaze

    Great photos, but a bit over-sharpened in my opinion.

  • Marcin

    A few of those would look better in colour, I think.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    I wish. Actually, there might be pics around of the group as Adams photographed workshop class pictures (well, his assistant did) but I doubt they got scanned and put online anywhere. I never got one as I wasn’t an official member, just a friend of his assistant. I haven’t been back to Yosemite in over 20 years but it would be interesting to know if the Ansel Adams Gallery there (established after the time I met him) might have those negs on file.

  • Michelangelo

    Good work, but please, avoid this “HDR” effect lifting that much the shadows. “Reflections break the dawn’s stillness on a corner of Cabin Lake.” looks so fake… far away from Adams prints.

  • Fin

    Michelangelo, i agree. That photo is just awful. It looks like a jumble of difficult to define objects.

  • Fin

    Indeed. I remember the first time I saw Moonrise Over Henandez and was amazed by its mood and tones. Simply wonderful. Likewise with the Aspens (Colorado, I think), it was as if you could feel the texture of the leaves.

    I think few people have seen good prints.

  • yopyop

    I have the same feeling on some other photographs too, like “Golden autumn leaves surround an old aspen tree near Parker Lake” for example. But I have the impression that these are intended to be seen has large prints. When watching the youtube video in HD and in fullscreen, some photographs make more sense (more details). The 620*400 images shown in the article are probably not enough to fully enjoy the collection.

  • amiright

    I said something along the same lines. Sadly, though, my comment apparently was not approved. But I gave it the benefit of the doubt and sought out a larger version online, but it was only slightly better.

  • Juan Pablo

    By his assistant you mean John Sexton, perhaps? Great photographer too!

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    No, sorry. William (Willie) Osterman. He was at the University of Oregon while I was there (he getting MFA in photography, me getting MFA in ceramics) and spent summers working and printing for Adams. He got me in.

  • Mike

    Could it be the result of a specific color filter?

  • highfructosecorn

    I don’t think it’s just the camera or film either. Until you see actual prints, it’s really hard to appreciate how much extra work Adams put in recomposing the print in the dark room. Adjusting sliders and retouching a few spots just doesn’t compare.

  • http://dineshmaneer.com/ Dinesh Maneer

    great photos but few are not up to expectations when given a Ansel Adams tag. In my opinion in many photos pure black and pure white is missing, and those HDRs , never liked them !

  • Gregory Minaker

    Willie got the job through UofO teacher Haberstat one great photographer, so did Alan Ross who started out as Hal’s assistant.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Wow Gregory, I remember those names (amazingly). I wasn’t in the photo department but the entire AAA school was very tight in those days. Were you there? I was there from 1972 to 1975 (BFA) and 1978 to 1980 (MFA). I worked with David Foster, Bob James and Ken O’Connell, among others.

  • DrKubrick

    I’m sorry, but I’m bored by these shots. Yes they are nicely composed, exposed and processed but meh.. I think the bar is really high, unless you’re doing something new, I’m not interested. Over saturation. Too much. Original or go home!

  • nikonian

    I always wondered what the hype was with Ansel Adams’s work was until I saw a Print. I always thought his photographs were pretty but when I saw my first print of his it was breathtaking. The details, the tones, the shading, the mass of what I saw. Not many photographs have I stared at for so long. That being said I have done enough photography to generally notice the subtle difference between 35mm, MF, & LF imagery.