Ansel Adams – that American icon of photography and champion for wild places. But he didn’t start out with the capacity to translate into his medium – photography – the power of wild places. It all began with the wild places lighting him up and then building within him an insatiable need to express those experiences. Like the time he stood before the tall granite wall in Yosemite and could not find peace until he uncovered a means to express the feeling.
If I feel something strongly I would make a photograph that would be the equivalent of what I saw and felt. Ansel Adams (American Experience: Ansel Adams)
‘A photograph that would be the equivalent’ to what he saw and felt, there is perhaps no greater challenge to those of us who make things than the leaps we must take to embed into the work the profound sensations that we have experienced but cannot explain except by provoking them through our work. As the career of photographer Ansel Adams attests, artists must stand on that fine line where on one side normalcy and usual perception prevail while the other side touches the abyss where infinity whispers.
I trust the first impression, the initial glance at an image seems to reveal its inherent qualities. Ansel Adams (Ansel Adams, an autobiography)
Adams professed a process he called the Zone System which commenced with an intuition-driven visualization where excitement and perception held him to account. He accordingly set his camera, with the vision in mind, to capture the sensations he experienced – using his framework of camera exposures to capture areas of different luminance in the subject, each related to exposure zones and these in turn to approximate values of grey in the final print. He was a master of light and he bade the camera to do his bidding as he tuned the exposures to grant him the qualities that would explode through his pictures.
I am interested in expressing something that is built up from what is within rather than this extraction from without. Ansel Adams (American Experience: Ansel Adams)
It is impossible – totally and utterly impossible – to make anything of any consequence without having had that profound and altering experience in knowing the thing you are attempting to translate. Detachment is not an option, you must hold an intimacy of excruciating vulnerability to first have the experience and then, to believe it, you must be courageous because as an artist it will be your job to provoke that profound experience. This is the consequence of stepping into the realms that cannot be explained: we are haunted to bring back the bits and to make portals that guide back to their source.
Architecture knows no other means for manifestation. Do not be fooled by the computer renditions, it is from the hand that the charge of the sublime must flow. Adams developed and used his Zone system in such a way that the camera was altered to reveal what he saw not what the mechanics of its predisposition proposed. As in computer drafting/design – the machine has a predisposition that lulls you into its reality. My design process is surprisingly akin to what Adams devised, it begins with almost meditative intuitive hits about the land and program (this is where I make power-filled little models that hold the gesture – the fullness of the experience) and then I make geo maps and physical models – lots and lots of them – to capture the areas of different luminance – each related to material and scale and sitting. The building sections and plans toggle back and forth and in turn develop into details and constructions. I hold the original intuitions as a reference throughout the design even as construction materializes. That initial seeing holds the inherent qualities that will become the architecture.
We all move on the fringes of eternity and are sometimes granted vistas through the fabric of illusion. (Ansel Adams, an autobiography)
Do not even for a blink suppose that the creative life is other than this. We must hone our ability to see through the fabric of illusion if we are to make good design.