Dave Nance , Jul 17, 2001; 04:56 p.m.
I am an unabashed enthusiast of "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico". I have a poster of it on the wall of my office, and I made a trip to Hernandez a couple of years ago to find the spot where it was taken (by the way, the old church and cemetery are still there).
I know there are folks in the photo.net community who dislike Adams' work; I will not be surprised to hear that some dislike "Moonrise" in particular (because of its great popularity, perhaps?). I will leave the critiquing to them.
But, I thought I'd contribute the following excerpt from a piece by Mary Street Alinder, Adam's long-time assistant and biographer, about "Moonrise". I found it on the internet once - sorry, can't find it there now, so can't provide a link, but I still have some of the text. I think it is an interesting piece of background to any critique of the photo.
From "Ansel Adams: Some Thoughts About Ansel And About Moonrise", by Mary Street Alinder (Copyright 1999 Alinder Gallery):
"Moonrise was made on a typical Ansel trip to the Southwest in the fall of 1941 combining two commercial assignments: one for the U.S. Department of the Interior at Carlsbad Caverns and the other for the U.S. Potash Company. Accompanying Ansel were his son, Michael, and his good friend, Cedric Wright. The trip was a grand, meandering one, tailored to show eight year old Michael the sights of the Southwest. After a few days exploring Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Canyon de Chelly, they decided to photograph about Santa Fe.
"Driving back to their hotel following an unsuccessful day of picture making in the Chama Valley, Ansel glanced to his left and saw a fantastic event. The sky was illuminated by brightly-lit clouds in the east and the white crosses in the cemetery of the old adobe church seemed to glow from within. He nearly crashed the car as he screeched to a halt in the roadside ditch, dashed out, yelling at Michael and Cedric to find the tripod, the camera, the meter, etc.
"Ansel rushed to assemble and mount the 23.5 inch component of his Cooke Series XV lens on his 8 x 10-inch view camera loaded with Ansco Isopan film and find the Wratten G filter. All was in place, but he could not find his Weston light meter. He remembered that the moon reflects 250 foot candles and he based his exposure upon that fact. He quickly computed a setting of 1/60 at f/8, but with the addition of the filter it became 1/20 at f/8. To achieve the same exposure with greater depth of field he stopped the lens to f/32 and released the shutter for one second. He prepared to make a second exposure for insurance. Dramatically, the light faded forever from the foreground.
"Moonrise, the negative, was far from perfect. It took me two years to convince Ansel to make a 'straight' print of Moonrise. He printed it without his customary darkroom manipulation as a teaching tool to show the basic information contained within the negative. Comparing this print with a fine print, one is struck by the immense work and creativity necessary for Ansel to produce what he believed to be the best interpretation of the negative. His final, expressive print is not how the scene looked in reality, but rather how it felt to him emotionally.
"Moonrise was Ansel's most difficult negative of all to print. Though he kept careful records of darkroom information on Moonrise, each time he set up the negative, he would again establish the procedure for this particular batch of prints because papers and chemicals were always variables not constants. After determining the general exposure for the print, he gave local exposure to specific areas. Using simple pieces of cardboard, Ansel would painstakingly burn in (darken with additional light from the enlarger) the sky, which was really quite pale with streaks of cloud throughout. He was careful to hold back a bit on the moon. The mid-ground was dodged (light withheld), though the crosses have been subtly burned in. This process took Ansel more than two minutes per print of intricate burning and dodging. Ansel created Moonrise with a night sky, a luminous moon and an extraordinary cloud bank that seems to reflect the moon's brilliance. Moonrise is sleight of hand. Moonrise is magic."