NEW YORK, NY (AP).-
An early print of an iconic Ansel Adams photograph is going up for auction in New York City for an estimated $350,000 to $450,000. The Dec. 8 sale of 1948's "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" is at Swann Auction Galleries
. The print is signed and inscribed to Valentino Sarra, a friend of Adams' and a poster designer for the old Works Progress Administration. It shows a nighttime moon over a cloud-fringed mountain range with a graveyard in the foreground. It was made in a range of subtle grays, and the auction house says it's one of only 10 believed to carry such a delicate tonal quality. Three are in museum collections. Adams experimented with printing, often producing the same image in lighter and darker tones.
Ansel Adams's position in the pantheon of master photographers is assured by his magisterial studies of the American landscape. "Moonrise over Hernandez" is his most famous and revered photograph. The beautiful print offered in this lot, in which Adams rendered the clouds and sky subtly, in a range of gray tones, was created in 1948. It is believed that fewer than 10 photographs with this delicate tonal quality were produced and three are now in collections of The Getty Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, NY and Princeton University Art Museum. The photograph is mounted, signed and inscribed to Valentino Sarra, a photographer and W.P.A. poster designer, who was a friend of Adams. Sarra apparently ordered the picture after seeing it in Camera Annual.
The subject matter of the picture, a cemetery whose white crosses seem to be lit from within, is richly symbolic. A serene and waxing moon, the presumed source of the glowing light, appears in the background. It has been said that the scene "punctuate the meeting of heaven and earth."
The picture was actually shot on October 31, 1941, Halloween day, at 4:05 PM, the late afternoon. Interestingly, Adams could not recall when he actually made the photograph, claiming it was sometime between 1941-44. A scientist at the High Altitude Observatory, Boulder, Colorado, determined the date and time based on the moon's position in the sky.
The story associated with the picture is the stuff of legend. After a discouraging day in the field with his son and an assistant, Adams was driving home, when he "saw an extraordinary situation--an inevitable photograph! I almost ditched the car and rushed to set up my 8 x 10 inch view camera . . . but I could not find my exposure meter! The situation was desperate: the low sun was trailing the edge of clouds in the west, and shadow would seem to dim the white crosses." Adams had pre-visualized the image, managing to capture the picture before the sun set and light irrevocably shifted.
Although much has been written about this iconic picture, little has been said about the process by which he made the photographic print. In addition to the soft tonal range, each version of Adams's earliest photographs is cropped uniquely. The inventor of the Zone System, a photographic technique used to determine the widest range of print tonality Adams, a consummate technician, was in the best position to manifest the relationship between how the photographic subject is visualized and its final form as a photographic print.
Adams remarked that it was difficult to craft photographs from the original negative, which is why prints from this period are uncommon. In December 1948 he reprocessed the negative, increasing the density in the foreground. Later prints, from the 1960s-1970s, depict a scene with greater contrast, in which the sky appears dramatically darker.
The photograph was gifted to a New York Collector in the late 1960s.
Copyright 2009: The Associated Press.