Ben’s Autumn photos made me think of his favourite photographer, Ansel Adams, who died on 22 April 1984, and Adams’ collaboration with writer and critic Nancy Wynne Newhall. She also worked with Edward Weston, but it was the text she wrote for the 1960 exhibition This is the American Earth that earned her the most acclaim. Adams’ photographs of the American West, particularly of Yosemite, made an inestimable contribution to conservation in the middle decades of the last century - and all in black and white. He combined a conservationist’s zeal with an extraordinary sensitivity to the spiritual and the sublime. He complained that sublime photographs were all too often accompanied by lacklustre text. So when he found Nancy Newhall, he rejoiced. He called the text she wrote for American Earth “paeonic and evocative ... explicit and miraculous.” Her lines should be read “as though they were parts of Genesis.” She certainly added lustre to Adams’ already luminous world.
You shall know the night - its space, its light, its music.
You shall see earth sink in darkness and the universe appear.
No roof shall shut you from the presence of the moon.
You shall see mountains rise in the transparent shadow before dawn.
You shall see - and feel! - first light, and hear a ripple in the stillness.
You shall enter the living shelter of the forest.
You shall walk where only the wind has walked before.
You shall know immensity,
and see continuing the primeval forces of the world.
You shall know not one small segment but the whole of life, strange, miraculous, living, dying, changing.
You shall face immortal challenges; you shall dare,
delighting, to pit your skill, courage, and wisdom
against colossal facts.
You shall live lifted up in light;
you shall move among clouds.
You shall see storms arise, and, drenched and deafened,
shall exult in them.
You shall top a rise and behold creation.
And you shall need the tongues of angels
to tell what you have seen.
Were all learning lost, all music stilled,
Man, if these resources still remained to him,
could again hear singing in himself
and rebuild anew the habitations of his thought.
let all men
turn to the earth.