Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ansel Adams' Photographs and Washington Irving's "Sketch Book"

"When words become unclear, 
I shall focus with photographs. 
When images become inadequate, 
I shall be content with silence."
 – Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams [2/20/02 - 4/22/84] source
Today marks the 29th anniversary of the death of legendary American photographer Ansel Adams. He has been called the most influential photographer for the cause of our beloved national parks. 

Are you curious about why I am featuring him here on my blog about children's books?  Well, on a recent trip to Yosemite National Park, we stayed at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, and I discovered that Ansel Adams is not only linked to Yosemite because of the many photographs he took, but also because of his part in an annual event there that is based on a children's book!
Celebrated every December since 1927, the Bracebridge Dinner  transforms the beautiful dining room at the Ahwahnee Hotel into a 17th century English manor for a feast of food, song and mirth.
Bracebridge Dinner
The inspiration for this yuletide ceremony was "Old Christmas" from Washington Irving's Sketch Book. It describes Christmas Day, 1718, at Bracebridge Hall in Yorkshire, England. (You may be familiar with Sketch Book - it includes Irving's short stories, including "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow".  You can see it here in its entirety on Archive.org, here).

"The Christmas Dinner"
Illustration by R. Caldecott
source: Project Gutenberg
What does this dinner have to do with famed photographer Ansel Adams?  Adams wrote the Ahwahnee's original Bracebridge Dinner program, which still follows his score of classic Christmas carols.

Adams was also the original "Lord of Misrule" (the court jester given rule over the evening) of the first dinner in 1927, and the Pageant Master of the Bracebridge Dinner for 40 years! Ansel Adams wrote the lines for all the characters in a rhymed, upbeat cadence, and searched out appropriate music.
Ansel Adams (right) as the Lord Of Misrule, a role he played in 1927-28.
[Photo courtesy of KennyKarst/DNC Parks & Resorts@Yosemite Inc.]
Today, a cast of over 100 people, including performers from San Francisco's Eugene Fulton Chorale move diners to tears with an a capella rendition of "O Holy Night" one minute, and have them howling with laughter the next at the antics of the Lord of Misrule.

Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco four years before the great earthquake of 1906. An aftershock of the earthquake threw him to the ground, breaking his nose and marking him for life.

He spent his childhood days playing in the sand dunes beyond the "Golden Gate" (the entrance to the San Francisco Bay, where the bridge would eventually span the Pacific to join San Francisco and Marin across the narrows).Young Ansel gained an appreciation for nature there, which would become his primary source of photographic inspiration.

Natural shyness and a certain intensity of genius, coupled with the dramatically “earthquaked” nose, caused Adams to have problems fitting in at school. He was finally pulled out of school to be tutored at home by his father and aunt. He eventually became a gifted musician, teaching himself to play the piano and read music at the age of 12.

Adams first visited Yosemite in 1916, when he was 14 years old. On that trip, he hopped up on a tree stump to take a photo of Half Dome, then stumbled, headfirst, and accidentally pushed the shutter release. The upside-down image remained one of Adams’s favorites, he wrote in his autobiography.

Here is an amazing vintage 1958 video, "Ansel Adams, Photographer". Watch and listen to how Adams integrates the artistry of his piano playing with his artistic photography talents!

I love the view of the Yosemite Valley as it opens up to you, just after you've driven through the tunnel, arriving at Inspiration Point.
I took this photo during our visit in February 2013.  I just realized in writing this post,
that I was there just a few days before Ansel Adams' birthday, which was Febraury 20!
Ansel Adams has shot several dramatic black and white photos of this stunning view during different seasons and weather conditions...this particular shot is during a thunderstorm.
"Yosemite Valley Thunderstorm" by Ansel Adams, 1945 - source

And I love this unique photo I found of Adams with his camera, shooting another picture of the same view in 1976...
Ansel Adams at Inspiration Point, 1976
Alan Ross Photography - source

Here is a wonderful biography for kids, illustrated by the photographs of Adams. The text follows the pictures, with an insightful account of Adams' life, from his upbringing in San Francisco to his love of nature and photography.

For Grades 5 and up, but children of any age who have visited Yosemite National Park (or are planning a trip there) will enjoy looking at the photography.

Ansel Adams: America's Photographer, A biography for young people, by Beverly Gherman.

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