Pais it Forward

A homage to Ansel Adams

Black and white photography has been a draw for me ever since I can remember. I grew up in a home which had its fair collection of Ansel Adams prints, although sadly, none are originals. Once I became of age to operate a disposable camera, it became my personal quest to recreate, if not just capture, my own Ansel experience.

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I realize I am not unique, nor alone, in my infatuation with his work as evidenced by the numerous prints I see in other’s homes and the newly found instagram community I follow.

It seems as though all photographers are on a daily pilgrimage to embody the artist’s work and keen eye, if not only for just a single snapshot. What has always been a draw to me is his abilities to make nature and simple objects within, envelop the viewer as if to transport you to that very place and time.

But what time do you place on these images, observed in black and white? Their ability to transcend time is the precise draw for me. When contemplating the valleys of Yosemite, or the rising moon in New Mexico, we are not decoding the vibrancy of the colors or the fade in the print, as the photographs require one to write their own understanding, despite lacking the obvious.


For those of you who are familiar with Adam’s Oak Tree, Snowstorm print, it is from this print where my initial obsession unfolded. The image was taken in 1948 during a snowstorm in Yosemite, but somehow, at the end of my own childhood driveway, I saw (what at the time) appeared to be a splitting image in the neighbor’s yard. It was a cold Minnesota day; the air was muddied by the snowy drizzle that fell to the earth. The tree was enormous, presenting itself to be photographed and staring down the barrel of my driveway, looking me in the eye. I captured that snow-drenched oak tree as an 8 year-old from my Kodak yellow disposable camera and have been on a quest to continually better myself as a photographer since.

I spent the next few seasons snapping photos of that tree from the same spot at the end of my driveway, in awe of the artistic presentation it provided through rain, wind, sun and falling leaves. I still have this photo today, and smile when I think of the story behind it.

Black and white photography in a way poses an additional element of difficulty. A beautiful sunset is lost in black and white. A colorful field of flowers dissolves into nothing once the pigments are stripped away. Being able to capture a moment in black and white which invokes a feeling of timelessness, curiosity and substance is no easy task and for that, we should tip our hats to Ansel Adams.

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