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Adams, Ansel / Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico

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Ansel AdamsAmerican (1902-1984)Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico1941gelatin silver print50.0 x 68.0 cm.George Eastman House Collection74:0082:0001INSCRIPTION: mount recto-(signed) "Ansel Adams" mount verso-(in pencil) "George Eastman House"©2008 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust


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Moonrise Timeline

October 31, 1941 4:05 PM (local time) "At the suggestion of Beaumont Newhall, Dr. David Elmore of the High Altitude Observatory at Boulder, Colorado, put a computer to work on the problem [of dating "Moonrise"]. Using data from a visit to the site, analysis of the moon's position in the photograph, and lunar azimuth tables, he determined that the exposure was made at approximately 4:05 P.M. on October 31, 1941."[1]

November 1, 1941 4:49 PM "This date [October 31, 1941] was disputed by another scientist, the astronomer Dennis di Cicco, who also attempted dating the photograph based on celestial coordinates; di Cicco was ultimately more accurate with his November 1, 1941, 4:49 P.M. attribution, because he correctly determined Adams' tripod placement on the old road (rather than the newer highway) that runs from the Chama River Valley to Santa Fe."[2]

1942 "Moonrise, Near Hernandez, New Mexico" was selected by Edward Steichen to be published in the photography annual U.S. Camera 1943. Adams says of this picture: “It was made after sundown, there was a twilight glow on the distant peaks and clouds. The average light values of the foreground were placed on the ‘U’ of the Weston Master meter; apparently the values of the moon and distant peaks did not lie higher than the ‘A’ of the meter. The white cloud under the moon probably registered a light value about opposite the arrow of the meter. In other words, the values ranged between 1 and 8 (1 and 16 at the most). Extreme development was given this negative, as most of the values were placed within the ‘foot’ of the curve. It is gratifying to note the amount of detail visible on the face of the moon. Had more exposure been given these highlight values would undoubtedly have been lost. / Some may consider this photograph a ‘tour-de-force’ but I think of it as a rather normal photograph of a typical New Mexican landscape. Twilight photography is unfortunately neglected; what may be drab and uninteresting by daylight may assume a magnificent quality and mood in the half-lights between sunset and dark.” "Data: Panatomic X sheet film, developed in Agfa 12. 8 x 10” Agfa view camera equipped with a 26’ Cooke lens."[3]

January 10, 1943 “That brings me to the picture of the Moonrise at Hernandez. Sure you saw it at the Museum; Steichen picked it out there for U.S.Camera. I think it is one of my best. The reproduction is not good - none of the rich velvet blacks of the original come through properly, but it is still not bad. I will certainly make you up one of the best possible prints of that picture at the earliest possible time. I shall have to go to San Francisco to do it because my machine there will take the 8 x 10 film. I expect to go soon, so you will get a copy in a month or so.” Ansel Adams to Dave [McAlpin].[4]

June 30, 1945 [Prints being sent for your collection: Boards and Thistles, Trailer Camp Children, some new Yosemite pictures.] “Of course, they are all mounted with dry mounting tissue, and if they should appear at any time to become loose do not try to correct with ordinary adhesive. Just apply a hot iron at about 175-200 degrees, using a smooth cardboard about the thickness of the mounts between the iron and the print.” Ansel Adams to Lt. Cdr. D.H. McAlpin.[5]

December 17, 1948 “Made a perfectly gorgeous Moonrise print for George yesterday. Think the jynx [sic] is broken! Wish I had something exciting for you both for Christmas. I promised something, but I can’t recall what it was! [typed marginal note: re: surprise present of Moonrise for Newhalls for Christmas 1948] Ansel Adams to Nancy Newhall.[6]

December 28, 1948 “Did you get the Moonrise OK?” Ansel Adams to Newhalls.[7]

December 31, 1948 “We prize the Moonrise...” Beaumont and Nancy Newhall to Ansel Adams.[8]

January 1, 1949 “Am glad you like the Portfolio, the Muir, and the Moonrise! Can’t think of any other people, I would more want to be the owners thereof! Do you like the Moonrise print? I think that for the first time I got some feeling of tonal space. Previous prints have been too bleak and cold.” Ansel Adams to Nancy and Beaumont Newhall.[9]

February 1, 1951 “Your good influence is obvious in the Chicago Art Institute’s plan for a special photographic room. Good to hear they might buy a Portfolio! In Nancy’s letter she said they might want a “Moonrise”.” Letter from Ansel Adams to Beaumont Newhall, February 1, 1951.[10]

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico1941gelatin silver print36.9 x 48.0 cm (14 1/2 x 19 in.)The Art Institute of ChicagoPeabody Fund, 1952.203©2008 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

1975 “...Mr. Adams announced that he would no longer sell photographs to dealers after 1975, only to nonprofit organizations such as museums. The deadline prompted dealers to place huge orders that Mr. Adams is still working off [as of 1978]....'Ceasing orders made all of us sit up and fish or cut bait,' says Mr. Lunn, who ordered 1,100 prints. The dealers were happy with the arrangement because it helped push up the prices of Adams’s works. 'People realized they wouldn’t have an unlimited amount of time to acquire one of his prints,' Mr. Lunn says.[11]

"In 1975, the dealer Harry Lunn, Jr., then operating under the name Graphics International Ltd., commissioned Ansel Adams to print three of his most famous images in large format: "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico," "Winter Sunrise," and "The Tetons and Snake River." Each was to be printed in an edition of 20, with 5 artist's proofs, using 20 x 24 inch paper. The printing of the editions began in 1975, and was expected to be finished by 1977 (cf. Lunn Gallery/Graphics International Ltd., Catalogue 5: 19th and 20th Century Photographs, Washington, D.C., 1976, pp. 161-63).[12]

1978 “Fine prints are like a musical performance, “Mr. Adams says. “The negative is the composer’s score and the print is the performance.” “As his own work illustrates, the performances aren’t always the same. Mr. Adams’s later prints of “Moonrise, Hernandez” (he has made about 750) show a darker sky and a more brilliant light on the cemetery crosses than earlier prints, one dealer notes. Mr. Szarkowski of New York’s Museum of Modern Art says, “There has been a general change away from a lyrical feeling to a more dramatic print, a higher emotional pitch. The images printed during the 1960s are quite different from those of the 1930s.”[13]

1983 Recalling the making of "Moonrise" in Ansel Adams, Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1983) Adams describes the scene, time, and the circumstances surrounding the image: "We were sailing southward along the highway not far from Espanola when I glanced to the left and saw an extraordinary situation – an inevitable photograph! I almost ditched the car and rushed to set up my 8x10 camera. I was yelling to my companions to bring me things from the car as I struggled to change components on my Cooke Triple-Convertible lens. I had a clear visualization of the image I wanted, but when the Wratten No. 15 (G) filter and the film holder were in place, I could not find my Weston exposure meter! The situation was desperate: the low sun was trailing the edge of the clouds in the west, and shadow would soon dim the white crosses.

I was at a loss with the subject luminance values, and I confess I was thinking about bracketing several exposures, when I suddenly realized that I knew the luminance of the moon – 250 c/ft2. Using the Exposure Formula, I placed this luminance on Zone VII; 60 c/ft2 therefore fell on Zone V, and the exposure with the filter factor o 3x was about 1 second at f/32 with ASA 64 film. I had no idea what the value of the foreground was, but I hoped it barely fell within the exposure scale. Not wanting to take chances, I indicated a water-bath development for the negative."

Realizing as I released the shutter that I had an unusual photograph which deserved a duplicate negative, I swiftly reversed the film holder, but as I pulled the darkslide the sunlight passed from the white crosses; I was a few seconds too late!” [14] He wrote that "The lone negative suddenly became precious."[15]

Regarding the water-bath development, Adams writes, "I decided to use dilute D-23 and ten developer-to-water sequences, 30 seconds in the developer and 2 minutes in the water without agitation for each sequence. By using ten developer-water cycles I minimized the possibility of uneven sky."[16]

Printing from the negative proved to be a challenge. Adams wrote "The negative was quite difficult to print; several years later I decided to intensify the foreground to increase contrast. I first refixed and washed the negative, then treated the lower section of the image with a dilute solution of Kodak IN-5 intensifier. I immersed the area below the horizon with an in-and-out motion for about 1 minute, then rinsed in water, and repeated about twelve times until I achieved what appeared to be optimum density. Printing was a bit easier thereafter, although it remains a challenge."[17]

Adams describes his working of the print: "There were light clouds in a few areas of the sky, and the clouds under the moon were very bright (two or three times as bright as the moon). I burn-in the foreground a little toward the bottom of the print. I then burn along the line of the mountains, keeping the card edge in constant motion. In addition, I hold the card far enough from the paper to produce a broad penumbra in its shadow; this prevents a distinct dodging or burning line, which would be very distracting. I also burn upward a bit to the moon to lower the values of the white clouds and the comparitively light horizon sky. I then burn from the top of the moon to the top of the image with several up-and-down passages."

"It is difficult to make prints from this negative that I truly like; papers differ, toning sometimes gives unwanted density changes, etc. It is safe to say that no two prints are precisely the same."[18]

Print Gallery

Signatures Gallery

Image:Moonrise Newhall print signature.jpg Image:Moonrise GEH print signature.jpg


  1. Ansel Adams. Examples: the making of 40 photographs (Boston: Little, Brown, 1983), 43
  2. Karen E. Haas and Rebecca A. Senf, Ansel Adams in the Lane Collection (Boston: MFA Publications, 2005), 69
  3. U.S. Camera 1943, Photo Judge: Lt. Comdr. Edward Steichen, U.S.N.R., Edited by T.J. Maloney. Published by Duell, Sloan & Pearce, New York. Copyright by T.J. Maloney 1942, First Edition. 88 & 89
  4. Photocopy Ansel Adams Archive, Center for Creative Photography
  5. Carbon copy Ansel Adams Archive, Center for Creative Photography
  6. Reproduced at the Center for Creative Photography
  7. Reproduced at the Center for Creative Photography
  8. Reproduced at the Center for Creative Photography
  9. Reproduced at the Center for Creative Photography
  10. GEH Manuscript Collection
  11. Wall St. Journal, July 31, 1978
  12. Sotheby's Catalogue, April 2008, Sale N08424, Lot 127 Catalogue Note
  13. Wall St. Journal, July 31, 1978
  14. Examples,41-43.
  15. Examples, 42
  16. Examples, 42
  17. Examples, 42
  18. Examples, 42