Ansel Adams was on his way back to Santa Fe in his Pontiac station wagon after shooting in the Chama Valley when he saw the moon rising over a small town by the side of the highway. Ever impulsive and opportunistic, he pulled over to take a picture, calculating the correct exposure based on his memory of the luminancy of the moon. The resulting photograph, “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” is among the most famous to come out of Adams’ 8×10 camera, and out of the Southwest.
New Mexico can take a large portion of the credit for Adams’ career. He transitioned from being a dabbler with Sierra Club connections to being a full-time shooter during summers in Taos with Mary Austin, author of The Land of Little Rain. They collaborated on Adams’ first published work, Taos Pueblo, and spent time with Paul Strand in the early Thirties, learning a new style of clear-eyed, unsentimental shooting. “It is all very beautiful and magical here, a quality which cannot be described,” Adams wrote in a letter to the prominent photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz. “You have to live it and breathe it, let the sun bake into you.”
Adams would find later success in New Mexico, where he also caught memorable images of Ghost Ranch, Mesa Verde, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The dramatic landscape allowed him to create images with dramatic scale that didn’t engage in trickery. Adams was happiest where hyperbole was unnecessary, so he returned regularly to the first landscape that had truly caught his eye, until he died in 1984.
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