Network: Wilderness at the touch of a button

The work of photographer Ansel Adams is going digital. By Paul Rodgers

Some of the most striking photographs of the American wilderness ever taken could be available online - though for a price - and certainly on CD-Rom by 1997, courtesy of Bill Gates, boss of Microsoft.

The world's leading electronic art gallery, Mr Gates's Corbis, purchased the rights to the works of a top American photographer Ansel Adams last week, adding them to collections from Britain's National Gallery, the Hermitage in St Petersburg and the 16 million pictures in the Bettmann photo archive.

A proposal to include the Adams pictures in a new pay-per-view online service is being considered, although the company is not sure whether the quality will do them justice at the low-resolution levels necessary for downloading to household PCs.

The biggest obstacle to the online project is the lack of bandwidth available to most private users. Corbis uses a very high resolution for its pictures. A typical digital image file might contain 30Mb, and the Adams photographs will be even bigger. Downloading one to a PC could take hours.

Even if the online service does not go ahead, the company plans to issue a CD-Rom with 400 of the late Mr Adams's images, which revolutionised American photography in the first half of the century. Some of the 100,000 letters he wrote over his lifetime will also be included.

An earlier Corbis CD-Rom, A Passion for Art, inspired the Ansel Adams Trust to approach Corbis about buying the electronic rights to his collection.

Although Mr Adams was best known for his nature pictures, and for lecturing former president Ronald Reagan on environmental issues, he was also a confirmed technophile. Before his death at 82 in 1984 he was one of the first IBM PC users.

"Like many artists, he wanted to be immortal, and he knew in the 21st century that was going to mean electronic imaging," said Bill Turnage, managing trustee of the Ansel Adams Trust.

Mr Adams paid particular attention to the printing of his pictures, achieving a level of quality which is often unrivalled today, and Corbis is pushing the limits of technology and talent accurately to reproduce his effects digitally.

"Scanning photographs is more of an art than a science," said Corbis's president and chief executive, Doug Rowan. "It's very difficult to recreate what Ansel was able to do in the darkroom. We need to capture the same feeling in the digital lab. You don't just take a scanner out of a box and throw a print in it."

Corbis was set up by Mr Gates as a private company, separate from his Microsoft software giant, primarily because as a private firm it is able to take a longer-term view than a public company, which must constantly be aware of the stock market's short-term demands.

"Bill Gates sees there being a time when there's a great value to digital content, but it's a five-, 10-, 15-year project," said Mr Rowan. "We're trying to build a digital library with a broad theme, capturing the entire human experience throughout history."

The company usually buys only non-exclusive rights, but was persuaded by the trust to take Adams's pictures on an exclusive basis because of its fears of copyright infringement. Adams's prints are among the highest priced in the world, and are often bootlegged. Corbis plans to use techniques such as digital watermarks to protect the works, although its main line of defence will be knowing who its corporate customers are.

Mr Adams was born in San Francisco in 1902, close to where the Golden Gate Bridge now stands. He took his first photograph with a Kodak Box Brownie on a family trip to California's Yosemite National Park when he was 14.

One of his principal beliefs was that photographs are made not taken. Probably his chief technical accomplishments was the development of a film exposure system that gave the photographer control of textures and contrast in each part of a scene, a technique now known as the zone system.

Among the works that made Adams America's most celebrated photographer were pictures for a string of books, including Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail, Illustrated Guide to Yosemite Valley and This is the American Earth.

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

    £17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test