| || |
Surf Sequence #4, San Mateo County Coast, California
1940 (taken) 1981 (print)
Gelatin silver print
11 x 12 3/4 ins (27.9 x 32.4 cm)
Swann Galleries - New York
Fine Photographers, 19 February 2015, Sale 2374, Lot 64
Returning to San Francisco after a visually stimulating trip to Edward Weston's home in Carmel, Ansel Adams and Nancy and Beaumont Newhall stopped several times to take photographs along the coastal highway. In An Autobiography, Adams recalled the inception of what would become the 5-part Surf Sequence as a moment of both profound artistic camaraderie and singular artistic vision: "I photographed from a cliff top, directing my camera almost straight down to the surf patterns washing upon the beach below in a continuing sequence of beautiful images. As I became aware of the relations between the changing light and surf, I began making exposure after exposure. […] Surf Sequence is one of my most successful photographic expressions." The images recall Weston's powerfully abstracted landscape studies (indeed the pair had made trips to High Sierra in 1937), as well as Alfred Stieglitz's Equivalents series, which Adams had seen in New York. However, Surf Sequence, in its direct, unadulterated, vast serenity, mostly clearly represents Adams' own natural aesthetic.
The soothing, distant roar of the ocean breaking against the shore that is implicit in Surf Sequence lends this layered, abstracted image a quiet intensity. In this photograph the world as Adams sees it is both large and small. The high vantage point on Highway One serves to remind the viewer of the vast sea beyond, of the sky above, of the space between things in the world. And yet, from this height the dimensionality of that world is also reduced to flat planes of pattern-smooth sand, frothy water, a pebbled beach, a dark shadow. Rarely did Adams realize such a vivid, compelling duality in his work, and rarely did he see so elegantly and seamlessly the delicate rapport between abstraction and realism.