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ANSEL ADAMS by Mary Street Alinder

ANSEL ADAMS

A Biography

By Mary Street Alinder

Pub Date: April 24th, 1996
ISBN: 0-8050-4116-8
Publisher: Henry Holt

 A well-documented but flawed life of one of America's most famous photographers and environmentalists. Alinder knows her subject well; she worked for several years as Adams's executive assistant (``on call seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day''), led the team that helped the master assemble his 1985 memoirs, and coedited his volume Letters and Images, 19161984 (not reviewed). Out from under his gaze, Alinder is free to consider Adams more critically than before. She does so only a little, noting, for instance, that for her, an enthusiastic member of the generation that came of age in the 1960s, Adams was ``a monolith: unapproachable because he was unrelatable, an anachronism,'' while the older Imogen Cunningham donned hippie clothes and was part of the scene. In his early years, it develops, Adams was something of a womanizer (no matter whether or not it's germane, no modern biography can escape a look into its subject's sex life), and in later life he acted the curmudgeon, all the while single-mindedly forging a financial empire with his lens. These things Alinder tells us unflinchingly, but she too often falls into starry-eyed, even hyperbolic description, undermining the objectivity of her work: ``Ansel had become world-famous, his name synonymous with both photography and the growing environmental conscience. He had created an awesome string of important images that spoke only of his vision and no one else's.'' There is entirely too much fawning of this sort here, but Alinder covers the main points well, noting especially Adams's signal contributions to the work of the Sierra Club. She notes, as have many others before her, that as a young man Adams trained to be a concert pianist, and his photographs carry an almost musical sense of composition. Alinder's commentary on his style is direct and interesting, and one wishes that there were more of it. Readers familiar with Adams's autobiographical writings will find little new here. (30 b&w photos, not seen)