Ansel Adams, “Moonrise, Hernandez, NM, 1941,” Favorite Photographs for 2012, #10

Ansel Adams, “Moonrise, Hernandez, NM, 1941

OK everyone, it is the last day of the year, December 31, 2012, and time for the last of my Favorite Photographs for 2012 Series.   For my generation of photographers, could there ever be any doubt, it is ” Moonrise, Hernandez, NM by Ansel Adams (1902-1984).   The folklore about this image, taken late in the afternoon on November 1, 1941, from a shoulder of U.S. Route 84. is, well, legendary.

Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes had hired Adams to photograph federal lands. As Adams recounted:

“I could not find my Weston exposure meter! The situation was desperate: the low sun was trailing the edge of clouds in the west, and shadow would soon dim the white crosses. . . . I suddenly realized that I knew the luminance of the moon—250 cd/ft2. Using the Exposure Formula, I placed this value on Zone VII. . . . Realizing as I released the shutter that I had an unusual photograph which deserved a duplicate negative, I quickly reversed the film holder, but as I pulled the darkslide, the sunlight passed from the white crosses; I was a few seconds too late! The lone negative suddenly became precious.”

And why is it so precious, why do we relate to it so strongly?  Well for me, there is first of all the light, the patch of setting sun, the dark sky.  Then there is the detail in the moon, the fact that we can make out the features.  And finally, yes it is the glow of the grave marlers, the white crosses.  Adams is quite correct about the crosses.  They are the essential element.  For me it is not only one of Adams’ greatest images, it is one of the world’s greatest images.

I wish you all a Happy New Year!


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  1. […] moment in photography.  And we have all been brought up on the myth of Ansel Adams’ “Moonrise Hernandez, NM, 1941“  Actually, I like Adams’ description of that creative moment, of how he almost […]