Today it has become a truism to say that the medium of photography is light. But the skill required to capture that light in ways that celebrates its beauty and mystery has been mastered as fully by Ansel Adams as by almost any other twentieth-century photographer. And it seems highly appropriate that the name of the exhibition contains the words FIAT LUX: let there be light, As a case in point we may contemplate the beautiful fragment of Bristlecone Pine Wood at the White Mountain High Altitude Station. Here the stark light-dark-light contrasts reveal Adams at his best. While the sunset’s light accentuates the shapes of the wood at its edges, so that it glows with luminescence, the darker tonalities remind us that this fragment is as much dead as it is alive, and thus reminds us of our own mortality.
For me this image also suggests that we pay greater attention to the cultivation and preservation of nature, its delicate balances, which, when neglected, lead to devastation, as is occurring in the rain forests of Brazil. Even in juxtaposition with death, however, this lovely Adams image speaks of the glory of life. I don’t know of a more spectacular view than the one from the top of the Berkeley hills across the San Francisco Bay toward the city, and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. The silent serenity of this photograph contrasts markedly with the devastation of recent events. As beautiful as this image is we also know that many areas of the greater area of the San Francisco Bay are polluted.
In a photograph taken from the Lick Observatory the scientific facility is not visible, but we still, with the knowledge of the vantage point from which it was taken, sense the precarious balances of nature and technology, which so universally threaten the existence of both, including threats to outer space, reminding us to heed the ever-increasing warnings of pollution. The misty delicacy which characterizes this photograph of rolling hills, outlined with light, and trees, which are threatened by drought, makes us wonder how long these species will remain. Whether young or old, located in a city, or in more remote environs, whether researching the fruits of the earth or the mysteries of outer space, these never-before-exhibited images provide a wealth of visual information about the varieties and richnesses of our world.