12 August 2011

Ansel Adams: Moonrise Hernandez

Ansel Adams - Moonrise Hernandez
Susan Brannon
 12 August 2011
Moonrise Hernandez - 4:05 P.M. on October 31, 1941 Moonrise is one of Adam's most popular images. Why is that?  Do you notice the white clouds, the moon, or the white gravestones first? Do you notice how the photograph is divided according to the "Rule of Thirds?"
Many artists believe it is boring to look at images that are absolutely symmetrical, with images divided exactly in half. In Moonrise, Adams has stimulated our eye by offering three layers, each with a different tone: the black sky, the white clouds, and the gray landscape. Adams made an interesting composition, which became very popular. It "combined serendipity and immediate technical recall." Serendipity means lucky chance. He "felt at the time it was an exceptional image" and when he took it, he felt "an almost prophetic sense of satisfaction." The scene has changed, there are still some of the same features, but the road is wider and busier.  There are more modern buildings, but the graveyard is still there.  When he was a young creative photographer, his original prints sold for $10, and in the 1960s for $50 - $100. The price for a print of Moonrise in the early 1970s was $500. Then the value of the creative photographs of Ansel Adams skyrocketed. At an auction in 1981, the sale of Moonrise set a record price for a photograph - $71,500! Ansel Adams was returning to Santa Fe, New Mexico after a discouraging day of photography. From the highway he glanced left and "saw an extraordinary situation - an inevitable photograph! I almost ditched the car and rushed to set up my 8 X 10" camera. I was yelling to my companions to bring me things from the car…I had a clear visualization of the image I wanted but…I could not find my exposure meter! The situation was desperate: the low sun was trailing the edge of clouds in the west, and shadow would soon dim the white crosses." He felt at a loss to guess the correct exposure, but suddenly realized he knew the luminance of the moon and quickly took the shot."

I was at a loss with the subject luminance values, and I confess I was thinking about bracketing several exposures, when I suddenly realized that I knew the luminance of the moon – 250 c/ft2. Using the Exposure Formula, I placed this luminance on Zone VII; 60 c/ft2 therefore fell on Zone V, and the exposure with the filter factor o 3x was about 1 second at f/32 with ASA 64 film. I had no idea what the value of the foreground was, but I hoped it barely fell within the exposure scale. Not wanting to take chances, I indicated a water-bath development for the negative.
Realizing as I released the shutter that I had an unusual photograph which deserved a duplicate negative, I swiftly reversed the film holder, but as I pulled the darkslide the sunlight passed from the white crosses; I was a few seconds too late!”
Paraphrase of John Sexton, Ansel's technical assistant from 1979 to 1982
In October 1941 Ansel Adams was 39 years old, probably in peak physical shape and certainly at or near the height of his field photography. He was well practiced in every motion, and the time that it takes to make a duplicate negative, to replace the slide, reverse the film holder, remove the slide and cock the shutter is less than 3 seconds. Given that the initial exposure was 1 second and the decision to make a duplicate negative occurred then, Ansel was very, very close to missing that image. It is a testament to his skills that we are able to appreciate it today.”

  • Camera: 8 X 10 view camera
  • Lens: Cooke triple convertible lens.
  • Light meter: lost!
  • Film: Speed: ASA 64
  • Filter: Wratten No. 15 (G) filter
  • Exposure: 1 second at f/32.
  • Development: dilute D-23 and ten developer to water sequences.
    Years later - refixed, washed the negative, and treated the lower section with a dilute solution of Kodak IN-5 intensifier.

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