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Ansel Adams was trained as a concert pianist, and though his first photographs were made at the age of fourteen in Yosemite Valley, it was not until the 1920s that he decided to make photography, rather than music, his career. In 1927 he published his first portfolio of original prints, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras [sic] which included eighteen images of a region beloved of both artists and environmentalists. San Francisco patron Albert Bender suggested the idea of the portfolio to Adams, and proposed an edition of 100 plus ten artist’s copies. Working over the phone, Bender sold fifty-six sets of the edition within hours to wealthy friends who had never seen the photographs. The best known of the set is Adams's first masterpiece: Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, which exemplifies the aesthetic ambitions of American landscape photography throughout much of the twentieth century. The picture’s clarity of description, sharpness of detail, and broad range of tones demonstrate the photographer’s commitment to a pure, unembroidered rendition of the scene before the lens.
Monolith, was the first photograph in which he was able to capture exactly the image that was in his mind’s eye at the moment of exposure. As he explained, “I had been able to realize a desired image: not the way the subject appeared in reality but how it felt to me and how it must appear in the finished print.” This “visualization” method required exacting exposure and development of the negative and considerable skill in the printing process. Adams personally developed and printed his work throughout his career, though the way he chose to print his negatives changed radically over time. This print of Monolith was made soon after he took the photograph, and it clearly shows the surface detail of the cliff, even the part in shadow.