Visionary photographers Ansel Adams and Ernest Brooks II were enraptured by Mother Nature’s terrestrial and oceanic magnificence. Naturalist Edward Wilson has referred to New Englandier Dorothy Kerper Monnelly as “the Ansel Adams of the Wetlands.”
Works by Adams, Brooks II and Monnelly have merged decades later, their environmental and marine world conservation passion bursting from black and white photographs in the San Diego Maritime Museum exhibit “Fragile Waters.”
Adams traveled through America’s scenic national parks taking photos from a platform mounted on top of the roof of his classic Woody station wagon.
“I am glad the artist can move through the wilderness taking nothing away from its inexhaustible spirit,” he once said.
Adams said the artist brings his vision and modulated fragments to those who come to see when referring to his photo “Yosemite’s El Capitan Falls, Profile, Sunlight 1952 Gelatin Silver.”
Adams said he believed man must be free, both in spirit and society, to build strength into himself affirming nature’s beauty.
Adams grew up near Helmet Rock in the San Francisco, but soon saw life through a different lens.
His “Diamond Cascade 1920 Tenaya Canyon, Yosemite National Park Gelatin Silver” print exposure took from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. to capture.
San Diego Maritime Museum’s Exhibit Designer, Maggie Walton has been preparing for this traveling exhibit for 10 years. She said Jean Falk Adams, Ansel’s daughter-in-law, loved bringing the exhibit to the West Coast, said Walton.
“Dr. Michael Adams and Ernest Brooks II knew each other since WWII,” Walton said. “Ansel Adams’ photos in the exhibit are from his son and daughter-in-law Dr. Michael and Jean Adams’ personal collection. ‘Fragile Waters’ theme is to keep our waters clean.”
“Even in portraying the character and spirit of a little cascade, I must rely solely upon line and tone,” Adams said. “I framed the idea of cascading water for several days before undertaking my picture.”
Adams recorded his account of his classic “Diamond Cascade 1920 Tenaya Canyon’s Gelatin Silver Print” in Yosemite National Park in a letter to his father. His idea was to convey the power of falling water and the lighting conditions over a four-hour time exposure. He was 18 years old at the time.
Adams said one of his favorite images was “Precipice Lake, Frozen Lake and Cliffs,” taken in 1932 in Sequoia National Park. This gelatin silver print represented his transitional period and photograph documented his Group f.64 philosophy, which was one of the quintessential movements in the history of photography. Members of f.64 group included Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, Willard Van Dyke and Edward Weston. These artists used a small lens aperture with their large format cameras allowing the greatest depth of field in their sharply detailed prints. Their sharp focus was a departure from the soft focus of Pictorialism, popular in the early 1900s.
During this period Adams said he did not want to follow the conventional rules of composition. He said that he wanted to create configurations out of chaos. By seeing a subject, he said, this visualization was compelling in itself and symbolized a vivid expression. He believed that an artist’s photographs have an obligation to help us see more deeply the grandeurs and potential of the world we live in.
National Museum of the American Indian’s curator Jolene Rickard referenced Adams’ “Pool and Building” 1942 photograph taken in Acoma, New Mexico.
“The Hopi and Navajo nations of Arizona live in arid territory,” she said. “Water is a prime concern.”
Hopi and Navajo ceremonials are tied to rain, she said. Hopi have a rain dance called their snake dance which takes place during summer using live rattlesnakes.
Gloria Estrada, 67, an SWC floral design major, experienced the “Fragile Waters” exhibit with her grandson, Isaiah Padilla, 19, an exercise science major.
“I have been taking photography classes, which have opened up my mind,” she said. “Before I just took pictures and did not understand how to capture that image and make it the best by using the rule of thirds.”
Estrada said Adams’ photographed orchestrated images of nature.
During a visit to the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) with adjunct instructor Todd Stands’ photo class she saw some of Adams’ gelatin silver prints.
Padilla said his grandmother was prepping him for prime time.
“My grandma Estrada was my coach,” said Padilla. “She was teaching me how to look at a picture and never to put anything in the middle, the rule of thirds.”
Ernest Brooks II, a U-2 surveillance pilot, built his first underwater camera housing at 19. Brooks II, as president of the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, has been a spokesman for the marine world.
Todd Stands said he is a fan of Brooks II.
“During the 1980s I lived in Santa Barbara,” he said. “The Brooks Institute of Photography was started in 1946 by Ernest’s father. Ernie Jr. took over the school in 1971.”
Stands said that in 2003 one of his SWC photography students was accepted at Brooks.
“It is very difficult to get accepted and to graduate from,” he said.
Brooks II has traveled the world photographing coral reefs, sea lion puppies and kelp.
He said that only a few decades ago, it was a common sight for divers to see schools of smelt, anchovy and mackerel, but now it is a rarity.
Brooks II photographed The Altar, Coral Reef at Sunset 1996 black and white at Analio, Philippines.
“I could spend the rest of my life photographing the shapes, patterns and textures of hard coral in the Sulu Sea,” he said.
Ralph Clevenger, a senior faculty member of the professional photography program Brooks Institute, said there is a strong bond among those who are truly concerned about ocean life.
“Ernie Brooks II’s goals were to educate others about the fragility of the world’s oceans and their essential role in life on this planet,” he stated.
Brooks II’s photograph “Spot 1992,” taken near Anacapa Island, catches a sea lion emerging from a kelp bed. This experience of looking into the sea lion’s eyes enabled Brooks II to see their innocence, he said and affected him in a profound way.
Brooks II photographed “Winged Angel 1993” on the south facing end of Santa Barbara Island.
He said that this dive site is a sea lion rookery. He has spent many hours studying the behavior and social patterns of sea lions.
“I still continue to be amazed by how easily they accept me into their midst,” he said.
Jimmie Fletes, 39, a Marine veteran and SWC photography major, said he enjoyed Brooks II’s under water photography.
“Brooks II’s Sea Lion Pups Greet Under Water, taken in 1994 Santa Barbara Island, showed how innocent, peaceful and happy the pups were,” he said.
Dorothy Kerper Moonnelly’s work evolved over a 30-year period. She followed her mother Dorothy Kerper’s love for the arts. Both were teachers.
Monnelly said she found peace of mind taking gelatin silver photos from Hawaii to Maine. Her photos have been featured with Adams and Brooks II’s in two “Fragile Waters” exhibitions.
As a nine year old, Monnelly had a camera hanging from her neck, but did not publish her first book until she was 60. She always focused upon the elements of form, texture, patterns and harmony in her black and white pictures. Her pictures have included a wide range of f-stop numbers, demonstrating a strong depth of field allowing for great compositions.
Estrada said Monnelly was unique.
“Monnelly’s pictures are totally different from Adams,” she said. “Her pictures are more dramatic, intensifying her image.”
Estrada said Monnelly was personally involved in her pictures.
Her oceanscapes include the Great Marsh and other natural landscapes around the world.
Monnelly said wetlands provide beauty and food for migratory shore birds and must be preserved.
“The Great Marsh covers over 20,000 acres from Cape Ann north of Boston to the New Hampshire border,” she said.
After 9-11, Monnelly found peace of mind photographing images in The Great Marsh. “Landscapes nurture me,” she said. “I have come away with a very different feeling.”
Monnelly tells amateur and advanced photographers to recognize a subject within yourself, which draws you in. She said an important element of photography is luck.
More than 40 years ago Monnelly fell in love with ice patterns, she said, because they symbolized everything fresh. She interpreted some ice patterns as having human forms in motion. She said that she wants all observers to feel the action arrested in the ice patterns.
“A photographer must catch that changing light, that fleeting moment and capture the iconic image,” she said.
Fletes said he was impressed with Monnelly’s “Wrack Line Rain Gelatin Silver Print Acadia National Park.”
“Those rain drops on the dark grey rocks drew me into the picture,” he said. “I liked all three environmental photographers. They raised my awareness of what is out there.”