Ansel Adams's Machine Age Aesthetic
They may show nature, but the first thing I see in them is the Great American Automobile. When I look at "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico," I see the Pontiac station wagon Adams was driving along Highway 84, at 4:49 p.m. on Nov. 1, 1941, when he caught sight of an old-time Spanish settlement in his rear-view mirror, then screeched to a halt to capture it on film. In the pueblo pictures, I see the fancy Buick that Adams drove 2,400 miles in 1927, speeding him and its wealthy owner from their homes in San Francisco to the Southwest and back. Those magical pictures of Yosemite put before me all the vehicles it took to haul the 200 hikers of the Sierra Club -- the young photographer was an assistant manager for its outings -- to the trailhead.
Of course, none of those cars are visible in Adams's photos. (Or not in most of them, at any rate. More on that below.) But they are a hidden presence that helps give his photos force and builds their meaning. Adams and his images are a product of the glory days of Machine Age America, and they speak about it.