Witkin Gallery, New York, New York
Purchased by Akron Art Institute (Museum), 1975
2015: "Proof" 4/30/15 - 10/25/15, Arnstein Galleries, Akron Art Museum
1997 - 1998: "75th Anniversary Celebration of the Collection" 11/15/97 - 1/11/98, Akron Art Museum
1989: "Ansel Adams: A Selection of Classic Images." 4/8/89 - 6/11/89, Akron Art Museum
1985: "Partners in Purchase: Ohio Museums and the NEA." 9/25/85 - 9/29/85, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio
Signed on mount in pencil, "Ansel Adams" LR
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941 (printed early 1970s)
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Driving in the Chama River Valley toward Santa Fe at the end of an unproductive day, Ansel Adams observed an extraordinary vista off to the east. Unable to find his exposure meter and eager to capture the scene before it disappeared, he quickly calculated the footcandle power of the moon's rays and exposed the film for one second at f/32. He later wrote that he had tried for another exposure, but as he "pulled out the slide the sunlight left the crosses and the magical moment was gone forever.”1
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico is arguably one of the best-known images of the American landscape. The photograph shows a small village on a plain beneath an expanse of darkened sky. The moon has just risen over distant snow-capped peaks, which are topped by a bank of clouds. But what gives the scene its extraordinary brilliance are the rays of the late afternoon sun illuminating the cloud bank and turning the crosses in the church cemetery a blazing white. Adams reprinted this popular image over the years, at first allowing random clouds to appear in the sky. It was not until the 1970s, when he printed the sky as an almost cloudless dark-toned expanse, that he felt he had achieved an effect equal to his original visualization of the scene.
Adams's passion for spectacular landscape had begun in his youth, when he spent summers in Yosemite National Park, and continued throughout the 1920s and 1930s when he returned there and to the Sierra Nevadas to photograph the majestic lakes and peaks of these western ranges. In his early years he was equally devoted to music and photography, but a 1930 meeting with Paul Strand settled his indecision about which of the two would become his profession. In 1941 his expertise in landscape photography drew the attention of Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, who employed him to document other American national parks; he made Moonrise while fulfilling this commission.2
Like many artists and photographers, Adams was often inexact in the dating of his pictures. An astronomer friend, Dr. David Elmore, finally came to the rescue. By studying astronomical data, Elmore determined that Moonrise had been taken between 4:00 and 4:05 P.M. on October 31, 1941. Whatever its specific date or time of day, this image remains a timeless metaphor of the stillness of the American landscape and the magical character of its light.
- Naomi Rosenblum, 2001
1. Adams, with Alinder, 273.
2. Under the New Deal, instituted during the tenure of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the government sponsored a variety of documentary projects, the best known being that of the Farm Security Administration. The purpose of Adams's project was to provide mural-size enlargements for the offices of the Department of the Interior in Washington. Adams received $22.22 a day for a period of 180 days' work and retained ownership of the negatives with no restrictions on their future use. On the same trip, he did a commercial job in New Mexico for the U.S. Potash Company and made exposures for himself. See ibid., 271.
Adams, Ansel. Yosemite and the Range of Light. Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1979.
———, with Mary Street Alinder. Ansel Adams: An Autobiography. Boston: A New York Graphic Society Book, Little, Brown, 1985.
Alinder, Mary Street. Ansel Adams: A Biography. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.