Ansel Adams

1 Jan

A photograph by Ansel Adams: The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

A photograph now hangs in my room. It’s very large. As I sit here and look at it, I realize it almost stretches the length of my window. It’s black and white. It shows a jagged mountain top and, silhouetted in front of it, two soaring pine trees. A lake is at their base, surrounded by splotches of snow, as if it were melting in the spring.

I always gauge a good photograph by whether I want to keep looking at it. Ever notice how, for instance, you could look at a single photo in National Geographic Magazine for whole minutes? That’s how this photo is, captivating.

Ansel Adams took it. Before this photograph, I didn’t know who he was. I had heard his name before, seen his photographs, but never put them together. Adams was a 19th century photographer known for his black and white photos of the American West, particularly one in Yosemite National Park showing a full moon. He passed away in the 80s, but his photographs remain rooted in the American consciousness.

All this, and more about him, my mom told me Christmas morning. She happens to know a lot about art, since she went to college for it and once taught it to middle-schoolers.

My brother ripped away the wrapping paper from his large present. He looked at the Adams photograph and said, “Thank you” to my parents. Not long after he said, “I don’t have anywhere to put it.” It is very large, and he lives in an apartment, which, he said, already has pictures.

“But do you like it?” my mom asked.

“Yeah, it’s OK,” he said. (Translation: No, I don’t like it.)

“Oh, I love it,” my mom replied. “We [Her and my dad] thought you’d love it, too.”

After the living room had been cleared of wrapping paper, brunch eaten, dishes cleared and a general sense of calm and equilibrium had been restored to the house, my mom asked me what I thought of the photograph. In truth, I didn’t like it either.

“It’s OK,” I said, parroting what my brother had said. I didn’t like it either. It seemed too dark somehow.

“You should try it in your room,” my mom said as she took a sip of coffee.

I considered this. Since I moved into my lovely new room, I’ve kept it picture-free, and I liked it that way. I felt bare walls make it feel more peaceful, more clutter-free, less complicated.

“No, no,” I said. “Remember? I just don’t want pictures on my walls.” Besides, I just couldn’t see it fitting into my room of yellows and greens.

“Still, it wouldn’t hurt to just try it.”

And so I did. My dad held up the picture next to the window, where he thought it would best fit, and I stood back near the doorway. It certainly took up a lot of space, I thought. It was so, big. Then, for the first time, I really looked at it, and I saw that the light and the dark and the balance of the two together with the mountains, pine trees and lake were, together, extraordinary. I couldn’t look away. Meanwhile, as I stood there dumbstruck, my dad began wobbling with the picture, wondering when he could set it down.

I said aloud, “I love it.”

Some pictures are meant to be hung. Crowded with ripped wrapping paper and set adrift in a living room, they don’t look right. Majestic things need fitting spaces, and Ansel Adam photographs need big, bare walls where everyone can see them. My room, it turns out, was the perfect place for one. 

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