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Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley National Park

Artist: Ansel Adams
Created: 1948
Format: Photograph

Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley National Park

Famous photographer Ansel Adams describes the precise moment he snapped the picture ‘Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley National Park’: “…I saw an image become substance: the light of sunrise traced a perfect line down a dune that alternatively glowed with the light and receded in shadow.”  As one of his most notable images, this photograph well-demonstrates Adams’ distinguishing talent in creating tonal contrasts.

The image, a composition that could easily be deemed abstract at first glance, is an incredible tableau of textured segments, odd shapes of varying shades of black and white.  The different patterns etched by the wind on the sand’s surface are exceptionally defined. 

The immense Mesquite sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells are a photographer’s playground. The light from the morning sun bounces off the eastern flanks of the dunes and creates intimidating shadows on the adjacent side, making those areas look like empty black holes. It is an effect that becomes the key aspect of ‘Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley National Park’.

Adams’ astute choice of angle captured the ripples on the sand and his perfect timing emphasized the lengthy sharp crests of the dunes. This feature of the photograph creates an intimate experience for the viewer; it gives one the feeling of wanting to set your footprints in the sand.

About the Artist

Ansel Adams, one of the most admired and renowned nature and landscape photographers of the 20th century, never failed to capture the splendor of the natural world. Receiving his first camera from his father during a family trip to Yosemite National Park in 1916, young Adams took his first photographs of the beautiful natural scenery surrounding him.  He would return many times to Yosemite during his career.

Adams received enormous respect and recognition for his amazing black and white photographs of nature, many of which were aimed at imparting a powerful message concerning the conservation of our environment, his lifelong crusade.

In 1932, Ansel Adams co-founded the Group f/64, whose members were encouraged to practice innovative approaches to photographic technique and style, ultimately motivating Adams to demonstrate his own applied methods of photography.

In 1941, after embarking on many instructional workshops, Adams began teaching at the Art Center School of Los Angeles, currently known as the Art Center College of Design.



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