Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs
by Ansel Easton Adams
A New York Graphic Society Book
LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY BOSTON
Buddhist Grave Markers and Rainbow
Paia, Maui, Hawaii, c. 1956
On a photographic assignment for the First National Bank of Hawaii, I was exploring for images that would interpret certain aspects of the Hawaiian Islands not usually covered by the average promotion photographs. In Paia, Maui, I had observed this rather beautiful gathering of oriental grave markers and began working out compositions of sections of the subject. The handsomely carved stones were of subtle values and textures. At first I was using a 121mm lens on the 4 x 5-inch view camera and was considering an image of strong convergence and depth-of-field effects. I also thought of working close to the inscriptions on the weathered stone.
I noted the first appearance of the distant rainbow, and my visualization quickly moved on to an ensemble of rainbow and stones. I changed to a 90mm wide-angle lens, which permitted me to encompass the entire arch of the bow and also have ample depth of field to include the near stones and the distant line of the ocean. I was concerned that the rainbow might fade while I was struggling to find the best camera position, but fortunately, it actually grew in intensity while I worked. The sky was quite dark with cloud. I used a Wratten KI (No. 6) filter to clear distant haze; a stronger yellow filter might have reduced the width of the rainbow by weakening the blue-violet bands. Within a minute after making a duplicate negative (which had a defect!) it began to rain, terminating further photography in the area. The negative, on Kodak Plus-X filmpack film, was developed normally. The print was made on Seagull Grade 2, with a small amount of burning-in, and toned in selenium.
It is difficult to describe the steps of the creative process, especially with a subject such as this where there is a variety of restrictive elements. There is, to begin with, the appeal of the subject itself. Inscriptions in a foreign language can have a direct aesthetic quality, unmodified by the imposition of meaning. I am glad that I do not understand the language of most operas; I can enjoy the music without being bothered with the words, which are usually banal. I assume that this subject might have different significance, to a Japanese person, because of the meaning of the inscribed characters on the stones. I observed the stones and the dark sky, and I considered an image which, for me, seemed appropriate.
I visualized the image very much as it appears here. In scanning the subject in relation to the visualization, the eye seeks relationships and combinations of shapes that seem to agree with some basic concept in eye and mind. Positioning of the camera required a little care; not only the horizontal position and distance from the stones, but the height of the camera above ground, were important for the desired effect. The relationship of the stones, the dwellings, the distant surf, and the rainbow was a rather complex problem of what I define as image management.
I suggest that you examine this photograph with a critical eye for camera point-of-view. I placed the camera at what I considered to be the optimum position; you can try to imagine the aspect of the subject and the relationships of shapes if the camera were moved. Only a few inches displacement in any direction — up or down, left or right, closer to or farther from the subject — will change the subtle separations of the stones and their relationship to the distant dwellings and the sea. For example, if the camera were raised a foot or so, some of the stones would be below the horizon line, and the effective isolation of the central white stone against the sky would be reduced. Allow the eye to rove and experiment; I had to make many rapid adjustments in composing the picture. There is a moment of “intuitive rightness” that clears the way for release of the shutter, but I often examine my photographs later to explore the possibilities of improvement in visualization and craft. . .
Webmaster note: The Mantokuji Soto Zen Temple land where this famous photograph was taken in Paia Maui has eroded away and the individual pieces in this “rather beautiful gathering of oriental grave markers” have been distributed among the other monuments in the Cemetery.