The story of the creation of the iconic image, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, is well-known, thanks to Ansel Adams’s own narration of the event itself. His creation of this scene—defined by a pitch-black sky, a small but glowing moon, low white clouds, and a few trees, buildings, and luminescent white crosses set against a backdrop of snowy mountains—was accidental, stumbled upon while Adams was driving through New Mexico. As the artist notes:
“I was coming back to Santa Fe after a futile day [photographing] up in the Charma Valley, and I looked out the window of the car and here was this scene. Well, this is extraordinary! So I practically ditched the car. And I had some companions with me and I started yelling, ‘Get me the 8 x 10! Get me the tripod!’… Meantime the sun was going down behind clouds in the west, and I was getting panicky, you know. And I couldn’t find the exposure meter. So the only way I was able to control [the light]… well, I happened to know how bright the moon was in terms of candles per square foot: 250, approximately… so I could figure the exposure. And I said, ‘I’ve got a picture!’”
Knowing that he had created a superbly unique image, Adams hurried to create a duplicate negative. However, the timing of the light—the setting sun in particular, which bounced off the white crosses to create that one-of-a-kind glow—was not in his favor. By the time he attempted to capture a duplicate, the sun had disappeared. “So the whole photograph—the whole image—just went dead. So I had made [the original image] by just a few seconds!” By happenstance, Adams created one of his most iconic images, one that is stirring, mysterious, and compelling.
tags: atmosphere, black and white, time, place, landscape, clouds, mountains, southwest, nature, light, environment, ecology