Rebecca A. Senf – Making a Photographer: The Early Work of Ansel Adams

Guest Review by Bill Edwards •

Rebecca Senf’s Making a Photographer: The Early Work of Ansel Adams provides an engaging historical account of one of our most renowned photographic icons. Senf’s biographical anecdotes allow us to see how his early work allowed Adams to refine his technical skills, perspective of the natural world as well as balance the need to support himself with commercial endeavors. This in-depth chronological journey through the youthful pre-1941 life of Ansel Adams compiles amazingly detailed images in an impressive monochromatic homage through his growth into becoming one of the masters of the photographic print.

Senf’s dedication to photographic art history documenting the seldom focused-upon era of Adam’s life provides a unique insight not only to the exploits of the maturing artist and his decision-making processes but also into the times in which he created. We see how his fascination with high altitude hiking, the challenges of documenting his journeys with large format captures as well as an extreme love of the outdoors led him down the paths intersecting with the Sierra Club, the Yosemite Park and Curry Company. It is important to note Adams’s early career is very modest, where the intent is to cover costs and provide a reasonably conservative income. The intent of being an artist was not a primary goal; in fact, we learn Adams’s style is quite documentary and lens soften focus in style which was very common prior to 1930. This era in which Adams self-educates himself during his hiking adventures with the Sierra Club and intermingling of commercial efforts, which is in contrast to his later work, dramatically demonstrated in soft pictorialism the accounts of expeditions through the high back country of the west.

Making a Photographer: The Early Work of Ansel Adams is a detailed collection of rare samples of Adam’s photographs with outstandingly reproduced tonal range. The inclusion of historic portraits, insightful documents and printing details of his limited edition work take the reader into rarely viewed aspects of this era of Adams’s career. Analyzing and comparing this work, we recognize where it rests in the evolution of his applied acumen as a photographer. Each image is respectfully reproduced and depicted with a visual acuity illustrating not only the subtle toning of the print but the unique characteristics of surface and transparency are discussed in pressing relevance. These often discarded works, even by Adams’s later standards, are worthy of reflection, as they are stepping stones that led him to where he fundamentally wanted to be as a detailed impactful image maker.

Senf’s retrospective reaches beyond a systematic journey of Adams’s early, formative years. The detailed interactions with those in Adams’s life provide reflection and a resounding impression to understand this young man in a deeper light. Senf provides an authentic historical bridge documenting the past, while providing essential context that is reinforced with Adams’s images. The palette of selections provide a variety of key early projects such as the Parmelian Prints and the Taos Pueblo work while attending to the engaging details of an avid outdoorsman attempting to convey his passion through a delicate care for the finished printed product.

Most importantly, Rebecca Senf’s exhaustive research and collection of carefully compiled images provides a comprehensive endeavor to recording an important era in the development of a beloved landscape photographer. She has achieved this monumental task engaging his viewer with detailed views, constructive analysis, and deep monochromatic moods rich in textured features as well as engaging us with humorously engaging moments of Adams’s life. Lastly, this title is fantastically well printed. The image reproductions achieve rich blacks while maintaining shadow detail drawing one into reviewing this collection of historical text and images time after time.


Making a Photographer: The Early Work of Ansel Adams – Rebecca A. Senf

Author: Rebecca A. Senf (grew up and lives in Tuscon, AZ)

Publisher: Yale University Press, New Haven and London, in association with the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, Tucson; © 2020

Foreword and Essay: Anne Breckenridge Barrett

Text: English

Hardcover; 273 pages with 153 photographs, plates and reproduced documents; 8.25 x 10.5 inches; printed in China by 1010 Printing International Ltd.  ISBN 978-0-300-24394-9

Photobook Designers: Leslie Fitch and Jeff Wincapaw


Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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