Centre for Fine Print Research University of the West of England Centre for Fine Print Research

Ansel Adams's Books: Photographs in Ink

Author: Dr Hammond, Anne
Name of conference: Public Lecture, Centre for the Book,
Place: Library of Congress, Washington DC
Date: 16.10.2008
Paper Presented by: Dr Anne Hammond
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In the course of his career, the photographer Ansel Adams used all three major forms of photographic reproduction in his fine printed books: letterpress halftone, offset lithography, and photogravure. All these processes divide photographic gradations into minute dots of ink which merge optically into areas of tone, with each method offering its own special aesthetic characteristics of ink and paper.

Adams’s photographic career was paralleled by his desire to achieve the finest quality of photomechanical reproduction of his images in his many finely crafted books. For thirty years, he relied upon letterpress halftone to recreate the aesthetic effect of his ‘f/64’ style. In the mid 1950s and 1960s, as letterpress for photographic reproduction was phased out by most commercial printers, Adams experimented with the process of photogravure, but was never completely satisfied with its translation of the aesthetic qualities of his photographs.

Meanwhile, George Waters introduced Adams to the new technology of offset lithography, and together they formed a highly successful collaboration as artist and master printer through 1979.
This talk highlights three books by Adams representative of the three major forms of ink reproduction of photography: Sierra Nevada: the John Muir Trail [letterpress] (1938); This Is the American Earth [gravure] (1959); and Images, 1923-1974 [offset] (1974), and traces Adams’s use of the three processes to achieve what he considered to be the most perfect translation of his photographs at different points in his career.