Mount Williamson, from Manzanar, Sierra Nevada, California
“When the clouds and storms appear the skies and the cloud-shadows on the mountain bring everything to life, shapes and planes appear that were hitherto unseen. Mountain configurations blend with and relate to those of the clouds. Paul Strand said to me at Taos, at my meeting with him in 1930 that was of such importance to my photography: ‘There is a certain valid moment for every cloud’.” (Ansel Adams)
Mount Williamson unfolding in his majesty surrounded by dramatic clouds behind a vast field of boulders, is for sure one of Ansel Adams’ most imposing compositions. Despite its visual power, the genesis of the photograph is no less interesting. In 1943 and 1944, Adams made several trips from Yosemite to document the Manzanar Relocation Center. It was located at the foot of Mount Williamson, where Japanese and Japanese-American citizens were interned after the attack on Pearl Harbor. During these visits Adams succeeded in creating this perfect image. What made it challenging was the dark granite rock of Mount Williamson tended to blend into the sky. Adams needed clouds to make the photograph work. The smallest lens aperture of his 8 x 10 view camera enabled him to look over the boulders to the distant mountain range. Later in the darkroom, using the zone system Adams had developed to calculate tonal range, he skillfully exposed the photograph to hold detail in both the dark rocks and the brightly lit clouds. Perfection was rewarded, the photograph was subsequently selected for the exhibition The Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955. The present gelatin silver print was made in the early 1950s and is a beautiful example of Adams’ darkroom mastery.