National Geographic Photographer Follows Ansel Adams' Footsteps In New Book

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Rocky spires known as the Minarets rise above 12,000 feet in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. All photos by Peter Essick

The Ansel Adams Wilderness ($22.95) National Geographic Society, 2014
By Peter Essick, foreward by Jamie Williams
112 pages, hardcover

A setting moon makes a fitting backdrop for a lunarlike landscape near Donohue Pass.

For 25 years, Peter Essick traveled the globe as a National Geographic photographer, and recently he was named one of the world’s 40 most influential nature photographers. In 2010, Essick began “a potentially controversial” project in his native California: shooting in Ansel Adams’ Sierra Nevada and in his signature black-and-white style.

Paying homage to a master without imitating the work is a delicate balance to strike. Essick’s results, though, are stunning. In The Ansel Adams Wilderness, he captures groves of shimmering aspen trees and alpine lakes, whose calm surfaces perfectly mirror the granite formations and pine trees above. Quotes from Emerson, Thomas Cole and others, plus Essick’s own notes, round out the book. Essick, like Adams, conveys a deep respect for his subject matter. And he defends his use of digital technology: If Adams were working today, he says, “he would have a similar model” of the latest camera, although “his would probably be better.”

Melting snowpack sluices down Shadow Creek.

Lodgepole pines cast long shadows at sunset.

Fungus whitens a plant pressed flat by snow.

Late summer thunderheads build above Garnet Lake.

High winds and gathering clouds signal the approach of a winter storm.

Above the tree line, strong winds whip whitecaps across the surface of Dana Lake.

In autumn, quaking aspen leaves seem lit from within.

Frost filigrees a quaking aspen leaf in late October.

A detail of a dead lodgepole pine suggests the dark depths of a lake.

This book review was originally published in the Aug. 4, 2014 issue of High Country News (hcn.org)

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