Ansel Adams' son on why the British landscape wasn't 'dramatic enough' for his father

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Michael Adams discusses why his father would have embraced digital photography but snubbed the aggressive stunts of environmental activists

How glorious would the British countryside have looked through the lens of Ansel Adams? The Glenfinnan viaduct swooping through the Highlands, the ancient crags of Dorset’s Jurassic coast, the rocky valleys of Snowdonia, the volcanic patchwork of the Giant’s Causeway - oh for exposures of them to have passed through the darkroom of the world’s greatest landscape photographer.

Click here to view a slideshow of Ansel Adams' dramatic photographs

As it is, Ansel Adams remains famed for a single-minded devotion to capture the American wilderness on film right until his death in 1984. He visited the UK just once, in 1976, and never made it beyond the capital. Of his British holiday snaps, the most interesting images are of coats of armour in a museum somewhere.

His son, Michael Adams, suspects the British outdoors was not dramatic enough to lure his father away from the Yosemite waterfalls in California and the Grand Teton mountains in Wyoming. “I think he would have liked the British landscape,” says the 79-year-old diplomatically, but what really excited his father was “high mountains with glaciers and very rugged areas of the world”.

Nevertheless, Ansel Adams’ images of his native landscape are just as revered by photography enthusiasts on this side of the Atlantic. On the evening of Thursday 14 March his British fans will have the rare chance to hear a personal insight into Ansel’s great techniques, motivations and thoughts from his son during a talk at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, south London.

Speaking to The Independent from his father’s Californian darkroom in Carmel ahead of his visit to the UK, Michael Adams recalls his childhood trips up the mountains with his father. “My first trip was aged seven in 1941, the year that he took ‘Moonrise, Hernandez’, his most famous picture in New Mexico - I was with him for that,” he recalls.

“He’d wait if there were clouds, he’d wait for the conditions that he liked the best. We sat around for a number of hours sometimes waiting for the light that he wanted. We would talk, but I would usually have a book or be looking at a magazine - or just looking at the view, as some of the places we went were pretty exciting.”

The tiny community living in the Yosemite Valley was not a second home to Michael - it was his first. He was born there, he went to school there, he was married there, and his childhood was every bit as dreamy as his father’s photography. “We had skiing, we had climbing, hiking, we used to swim in the rivers and the lakes. It was an idyllic life.”

Perhaps it was these adrenaline-laden pursuits that led Michael to become an air force pilot flying Sabre, Super Sabre and Phantom jets in Korea and Germany, before training as a doctor. He did not share his father’s love of capturing nature on film.

“We had fun but it wasn’t the typical childhood. My father was very different to my compatriots’ fathers. We never played ball or anything like that together. He wasn’t a fisherman, he wasn’t a hunter, he didn’t do a lot of physical activities other than the hiking.”

He adds: “Sometimes I was embarrassed about what he wanted to do - he was rather outspoken about the environment, and he didn’t mind telling the national park service what he thought about how they were taking care of Yosemite.”

Indeed, along with the ethereal beauty of Adams’ photographs, it was his work to ensure the protection of his beloved national parks that made the photographer one of the biggest names in the nascent post-war environmental movement. Most notably he helped rejuvenate the Sierra Club, an organisation campaigning for the American wilderness to remain unspoilt but still allowing the public to enjoy it.

Yet while Michael trusts his father would have been concerned by the scientific warnings of global warming, he believes the stunts and militarism of some green groups would have upset him.

“I think he would have been appalled at the extreme activities and views that some environmental people have,” he says. “I think he was a more moderate person who could work through a problem with give and take, not all or nothing.”

Michael stresses his father’s primary motivation for being a photographer was artistic, not political. “He always said he never took a picture for an environmental programme, but he always welcomed the environmental people to use his pictures.”

Ansel Adams’ photos were revolutionary in how they picked out the sharpest possible details, as well as manipulating light and shadow to make for strikingly high-contrast scenes. Much of the “magic” of these images came from his masterful techniques in the darkroom, a place that holds yet more mysticism today among a generation of photographers who have grown up with digital cameras and PhotoShop.

All the same, Michael says his father would have been “delighted” by digital photography. “I don’t think he would have left the darkroom, but I think he would have been excited by what digital offers.”

Part of Michael’s seminar is a demonstration of how his father could create prints from negative that at first looked ordinary, by exposing certain parts to high amounts of light while obscuring others with a wand of card fitted with a paper circle at one end.

“I have a straight print where there is no manipulation in the dark room, and it’s not very attractive - and then the final one that he’s manipulated where the sky is much darker and the clouds are somewhat obliterated, and it’s a much more dramatic photograph,” he says. “I occasionally helped in the darkroom. He was always full of energy, and he always offered to let me see what he was doing. I might stir pictures around in the water, but I didn’t do anything technically.”

Michael is now retired, allowing him to devote plenty of time to maintaining his father’s legacy along with this sister, his wife and their two children. He still visits Yosemite several times a year to oversee his gallery there. He is wedded to his father’s work- quite literally in some ways, as Ansel only first bothered printing his famous “Moon and Half Dome” picture for Michael’s engagement announcement cards.

He believes American people too are wedded to his father’s work. “The black and white is stunning. People recognise these images as America, this is what people think of as our national parks - they think of them in black and white.”

Ansel Adams: Photography from the Mountains to the Sea is at the National Maritime Museum until 28 April. For details of events including Michael Adams’s talk visit www.rmg.co.uk/anseladams.

Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris
architecture

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past