"The Unity of All Things": Ansel Adams in a New Light Open Access

Barth, Catherine Elizabeth (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/8w32r604s?locale=en


This paper looks closely at Adams' photographs alongside his published writings on photography, his correspondence with other photographers, and his personal notes to consider how he constructs an aesthetic of unity. Through the analysis of a set of photographic works from the 1930s through the 1960s, I demonstrate that with specific compositional decisions Adams depicts a unified, coherent, and idealized vision of the world. Many scholars have acknowledged the unifying aesthetic in his work, but little research has been done to examine how abstract qualities like unity, universality, harmony, and rootedness actually translate from theory to practice in Adams' photographs. My intervention is to examine how these abstract concepts can be seen formally and specifically in a wide variety of Adams' photographic prints, from natural subjects to scenes of industry. The first half of the paper is concerned with taking up the aesthetic of unity, how it is formally exemplified in photographs of nature and industry, and how it is related to other concepts in the literature on Adams. The latter half focuses on the complications presented by this kind of artistic vision, considering how Adams' emphasis on unity in the twentieth-century was so fixated on and entrenched in ideals of the past that it never fully evolved with new interpretations of the present.

Table of Contents

Introduction - 1

"The Unity of All Things" - 3

Print Survey - 4

Constructing the Print - 8

Towers and Trees: Nature and Industry - 11

Unity, Beauty, Enforcement - 15

The Artist as Creator of Unified Worlds - 23

Further Perspectives - 33

Conclusion - 40

Works Cited - 44

Figures - 47

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