Ansel Adams - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 11, 2023 | Phillips
  • This bravura print of Ansel Adams’s Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, has the subtle open tonality present in the comparatively small number of prints of this image made before 1970. Mounted to Hi-Art illustration board, a mount stock Adams favored before transitioning to museum board in the 1970s, this print bears Adams’s earliest credit stamp from Carmel, California, where he moved in 1962. Adams used this stamp only briefly before updating to one with a ZIP code in 1963.  


    Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, has its origins on New Mexico Highway 84, about thirty miles from Santa Fe. Driving on a late afternoon in the fall of 1941, Adams’s eye was caught by a small roadside town. He stopped and hastily set up camera and tripod atop his car to capture Hernandez’s adobe structures and cemetery bathed in the last rays of the setting sun. The resulting photograph is one of the most celebrated images of his career and has become a touchstone of 20th-century photography. Moonrise was first reproduced in U.S Camera in 1943 where it inspired a great deal of acclaim, but Adams for the most part declined requests for prints because the negative was profoundly difficult to work with and required an extensive course of burning and dodging to yield a print that met his high standards. Yet requests kept coming. In 1948 he took the radical step of reprocessing the negative to intensify its tonalites and to facilitate the production of perfect prints. After the successful reprocessing he began, very slowly, to fulfill print orders. Even so, prints of Moonrise in any format made before the 1970s are rare. Adams biographer Mary Street Alinder states that the majority of prints of Moonrise were made after 1970, at which point the market for fine art photography had been established and Adams had earned his place in the pantheon of great photographers.


    The early 1960s print of Moonrise offered here presents an especially nuanced rendering of the negative. Adams’s printing of Moonrise evolved over the decades. Earlier prints show a gradual tonal scale with an emphasis on the mid-tones and more detail in the sky; later prints are far more dramatic tonally, with deeper blacks and brighter whites, in keeping with the general trend in Adams’s print-making style. The present print captures the subtleties of the earlier prints while incorporating the dramatic tonality that would become a hallmark of his later printing style.


    This print was sold originally by pioneering Boston gallerist, Carl Siembab, in 1967. Siembab opened one of the very first galleries devoted to photography in the late 1950s, exhibiting work by Adams, Minor White, Aaron Siskind, and Frederick Sommer, among many others, and providing a meeting place for photographers, curators, and collectors alike. The Carl Siembab Gallery gave Adams a rare venue for the sale of his work, and he exhibited there numerous times. Siembab was instrumental in creating the fine art photography market, he inspired a new generation of collectors for whom the medium was vital and relevant.

    • Provenance

      Carl Siembab Gallery, Boston, 1967
      Private Collection
      Sotheby’s, New York, 1 April 2015, lot 9
      Private Collection

    • Literature

      Haas and Senf, Ansel Adams, pl. 37 and p. 146 (for stamps)
      Adams, Ansel Adams: The Making of 40 Photographs, p. 40
      Alinder and Szarkowski, Ansel Adams: Classic Images, pl. 32
      Little, Brown and Company, Ansel Adams: The Grand Canyon and the Southwest, frontispiece
      Stillman, Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs, p. 175
      Szarkowski, Ansel Adams at 100, pl. 96


Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico

Gelatin silver print, printed circa 1963.
15 x 19 1/8 in. (38.1 x 48.6 cm)
Signed in ink on the mount; Carmel studio (BMFA stamp 5) and printing information stamps (BMFA stamp 6), titled in ink, on the reverse of the mount.

Full Cataloguing

$100,000 - 150,000 

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs


Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 11 October 2023