Photos That Changed History: The Tetons — Snake River

I love nature. It’s very pretty and majestic. Mrs. Bird and I like to take trips up to see the Catskills, the Adirondacks, and we’ve even been down to the South to see the verdant forests covered in kudzu. Kudzu. A plant native to Japan but that has devoured most of the southeastern United States in less than a century. Who needs Godzilla when you can accomplish much the same with a plant?

Long story short: I like nature and I like nature photography. When I see a beautiful photograph of a natural setting, it makes me positively giddy. Wide open spaces. Clean air. Lots of trees to build nests in. You humans may spend a lot of time worrying about tax rates and school districts but us birds just want some place that looks awesome. Which, oddly enough, brings us to the photo for today.

This is a photo of the Tetons and Snake River out in Wyoming. The photo’s historical value is in that it was one of the classic works from Ansel Adams who helped to establish photography as an art form in its own right (instead of using photography to try to recreate the effects of oil painting or the like). It also showcased the majesty and wonder of the natural world. This photo, among others, stood as a silent but vibrant witness when Adams and others lobbied Congress to declare Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

Ansel Adams is most well-known for two things: his black and white photographs of the vistas in the American west and developing the Zone System with Fred Archer. The Zone System is a method for determining the optimal exposure and development for film photography. However, one of his greatest lasting influences was establishing photography as an art form in its own right with its own rules instead of using coloring or lens techniques to make photographs look more like other art forms. So, the next time you see a scenic photo, take a moment to remember Ansel Adams who, going somewhat against the grain of the 1930s “human interest” photographers, helped to make landscape photography into a recognized form of art.

— da Bird