This ninety-minute film by Ric Burns, for the public television series "The American Experience", is a thorough documentary on the life of Ansel Adams. Much of Mr. Adams life can be summarized using his own words: "If I feel something strongly, I make a photograph. I do not attempt to explain the feeling."
After a short philosophical prologue, the film details Ansel's awkward childhood years in San Francisco. These years were lived, fortunately, under the benevolent care of a loving father who supported Ansel's twin redeeming passions for piano and photography. A family trip, in 1916, served to introduce Ansel to Yosemite. It was a location that would provide healing inspiration for much of the rest of his adult life.
In 1927, Ansel abandoned the world of piano performance, finding its complex social realities to be ill suited to his keenly introspective nature. In that same year, he finally found the technical means to adequately capture on film his transcendent experience of light. Ansel was now able to accurately convey a sense of his intimate identification with the natural landscape. The first book of his starkly beautiful photography followed within a year's time.
Ansel's significant body of photographic work grew over the years culminating in a 1936 show at Alfred Steglitz's New York City gallery, An American Place. Almost simultaneously with the exhibit, Ansel suffered a nervous breakdown, which partly led to a rediscovery of the value of his ten-year marriage to Virginia Adams.
Starting in the late 1950's, initiatives on the preservation of the natural environment took hold of Mr. Adams attention, for much of the remaining years of his life.
In the year 1979, Ansel Adams was honored by a retrospective of his photographic work at the Museum of Modern Art. He passed from this world in April of 1984, but as this riveting documentary suggests, will long be remembered for capturing on film his quasi-religious spiritual union with the American landscape.