Untitled (Moonrise)
Jeff Eaton, 2016

One eight-by-ten view camera, twenty holders, four lenses (one Cooke convertible, one ten inch wide field Ektar, one nine inch Dagor, one six-and-three-quarters-inch Wollensak wide angle).

One seven-by-seventeen special panorama camera with a Protar thirteen-and-one-half inch lens and five holders.

One four-by-five view camera, six lenses (twelve inch collinear, eight-and-one-half apo Lentar, nine-and-one-quarters apo Tessar, four inch wide field Ektar, Dallmeyer telephoto).

One Hasselblad camera outfit with thirty-eight, sixty, eighty, one-thirty-five, and two-hundred millimeter lenses.

One Koniflex thirty-five millimeter camera.

Two Polaroid cameras.

Three exposure meters (one SEI and two Westons (in case he drops one)).

Filters for each camera (K-one, K-two, minus blue, G, X-one, A, C-five & B, F, eighty-five-B, eighty-five-C, light balancing, series eighty-one and eighty-two), two tripods (one light, one heavy), lens brush, stopwatch, level, thermometer, focusing magnifier, focusing cloth, Hyperlight strobe portrait outfit, two-hundred feet of cable, special storage box for film.

One ancient, eight-passenger limousine with five-by-nine-foot camera platform on top.

Arguably Ansel Adams's most famous image, this photograph is titled Moonrise rather than Sunset, even though the moon technically does not rise in the sky. As a scholar noted: The factuality and, moreover, the meaning of the setting sun were rejected by him in favor of the expressive symbolism of the rising moon; of the shining luminescence ablaze with greatness in its primal mystery, dramatically isolated in the infinity of darkness.

Instead of making an unmanipulated print from the negative, Adams selectively printed the sky black and the foreground dark in order to achieve a particular illumination and spiritual transcendence. The photographer's skill and vision transformed the tiny town of Hernandez, dotted with glowing white cemetery and church crosses, into a spectral landscape. ii

As he drove near Santa Fe after an unfulfilling day of shooting, Adams glanced out his car window and saw the makings of an incredible picture – the setting sun shining on the crosses of a cemetery, snowcapped mountains in the distance, and luminous clouds hovering above them. Realizing he had only moments to photograph the image he visualized, Adams quickly set up his equipment. Unable to find his light meter, he had no choice but to mentally calculate the correct exposure time. His fortuitous split-second timing resulted in this beautifully lit, romantic image that could be captured only once before the setting sun surrendered its energy to the moon and dimmed the crosses. iii

Driving in the Chama River Valley toward Santa Fe at the end of an unproductive day, Ansel Adams observed an extraordinary vista off to the east. Unable to find his exposure meter and eager to capture the scene before it disappeared, he quickly calculated the footcandle power of the moon's rays and exposed the film for one second at f/32. He later wrote that he had tried for another exposure, but as he "pulled out the slide the sunlight left the crosses and the magical moment was gone forever.”

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico is arguably one of the best-known images of the American landscape. The photograph shows a small village on a plain beneath an expanse of darkened sky. The moon has just risen over distant snow-capped peaks, which are topped by a bank of clouds. But what gives the scene its extraordinary brilliance are the rays of the late afternoon sun illuminating the cloud bank and turning the crosses in the church cemetery a blazing white. Adams reprinted this popular image over the years, at first allowing random clouds to appear in the sky. It was not until the 1970s, when he printed the sky as an almost cloudless dark-toned expanse, that he felt he had achieved an effect equal to his original visualization of the scene. […]

Like many artists and photographers, Adams was often inexact in the dating of his pictures. An astronomer friend, Dr. David Elmore, finally came to the rescue. By studying astronomical data, Elmore determined that Moonrise had been taken between 4:00 and 4:05 P.M. on October 31, 1941. Whatever its specific date or time of day, this image remains a timeless metaphor of the stillness of the American landscape and the magical character of its light. iv

Silver gelatin, mounted.
View of moon, few clouds in sky, New Mexican town in foreground.
Pueblo church, left.
Cemetery, right.
Bushes all around.
Mountains in background and low clouds.
Signed, ink (recto: bottom right corner).
Verso: Adams stamp, handwritten title, top center. v

Among [Adams] most celebrated images is Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, taken on Halloween. Here, Adams captures the intense, emotional response he experienced watching the rising moon illuminate the small town of Hernandez, New Mexico. vi

The story of Moonrise is legendary: driving through the Chama River Valley toward Española, Adams just managed by a few seconds to catch this fleeting moment before the dying sunlight stopped illuminating the crosses in the graveyard. Through hours of darkroom manipulation and wizardry, Adams created an image of almost mystical unworldliness. vii

Driving through Omaha toward Council Bluffs, I viewed a momentary vista to my east: the moon low in the sky, rising, as the sun set between 4:55 and 5:00 P.M. on December 24, 2015. The sky was nearly cloudless, a cemetery to our right, after a church further behind, having just left the hospice house where Jackie was lying still, dying. To catch this fleeting moment and realizing that I had only moments to photograph the image I visualized, I pointed my iPhone straightaway through the car windshield at the nearly-full moon. The moon was abnormally large, bright, warm in tone, in a sky of dull magentas, grey oranges, mellow yellows, and flat blues. Because of the evenness of the sky and the angle at which the sun was setting in relation to the location of the moon at the moment, an abnormal amount of detail was visible on the moon’s surface – dark and irregular variations of tone that indicated to me an unevenness of the lunar topography, possibly massive recessed craters or expansive elevated ranges.

The photograph image on my screen shows the moon centrally located in the frame, relatively lacking in detail – a somewhat small glowing white circular form. A flat salmon-grey color occupies most of the picture, except for the foreground area of the frame where a sequence of dark thin linear forms are topped by a bank of clouds. These dark branch and lamp silhouettes are set to what seems to be a fixed oblique, probably reflecting their regular location just alongside the road that we were travelling and the slight angle at which I directed my camera.

I press the home button with my right thumb and then I slide and shift my fingers up the back of the phone as I slightly pivot and rock its weight forward and back between my thumb and fingers until I reach my index finger to the lock button at the top. I squeeze my hand with my attention on pressing down the lock button with my finger – the illuminated screen quickly dims to total black as I lower the phone from my face and I slide it between my seated thighs – I feel the warmth of the screen through the inside left leg of my cold denim jeans for a moment. The sensation of warmth lingers for just a few seconds as my skin quickly absorbs and disperses the heat and my phone rapidly cools – finally silent and dark.

Tides are the sum of effects caused by the gravitational attraction of the Moon and the Sun, as well as the gravitational force here on Earth. The Moon's gravitational force is equivalent to only 17% of the Earth's gravity, while the Sun affects about 46% of a force over the Earth. As it is so much closer, the moon is constantly attracting waters of the Earth. When the Moon is in line with one side of the Earth, it pulls on the water, causing a high tide. Because the Earth rotates on its axis the moon completes one orbit in our sky every 25 hours. Thus, we see two tidal peaks – as well as two tidal troughs – roughly every 12 hours. Since the Moon moves around the Earth, it is not always in the same place at the same time each day. So, each day, the times for high and low tides change by 50 minutes. When the Moon, Earth and Sun are perfectly aligned, the sum of the gravitational pull of the Sun and Moon cause maximum tide, or extreme tides. When the Moon lies between Earth and the Sun we observe a New Moon. When the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun, a Full Moon is visible. In both of these cases, tides are 20% lower and higher, respectively, than the usual tides. The Guinness Book of World Records declared that Burntcoat Head, Nova Scotia has the highest tides in the world. The Bay of Fundy has a 17-meter (55.8 feet) tidal range. In many surf spots, surfing is only possible in low and high tides, (when conditions such as determined swell and wind are right). On certain other waves, middle tide conditions can be the best time to hit the surf. All of these variables can be considered along with ocean floor and shore geography in order to establish standard patterns for above-average surfing days. viii

Ansel Adams is depicted setting up his view camera on a wet Pacific Ocean beach at low tide. It is midday. He trains his lens slightly downwards towards a composition that includes an outcropping of dark wet smooth rocks in the middle ground – short yet strong waves regularly break dozens of feet before these rocks and directly towards his camera, in the background. The otherwise dark unsettled water around the rocks becomes a momentary thin foamy white as bubbly water reaches the wet shore of sand: the foreground. The water slows and the bubbles burst immediately, causing the water to return to an unsettled dark tone again. The sun is high in the sky. His light-colored brimmed hat shields sun from his eyes as he wraps his darkcloth over his head and camera in order to focus the image projected on the ground glass. He reaches forward to the thumbscrews on the sides of the lens plane in order to make a few slight shifts, resolving the composition and the focus. He re-tightens the thumbscrews. He then steps away from the camera and from under the darkcloth to retrieve a light meter. He takes off his thick black frame glasses and lets them fall – resting at his chest as a dark strap connecting both earpieces wraps around his neck. He places the light meter under his hat and against his right eye, squints, grins, and trains his view downward toward the scene:

Darkest shadow: eight candles per square foot

Light on wet sand: two-thousand candles per square foot

Place shadow on zone one

High value will fall on zone nine

Normal minus development indicated

He replaces his glasses on his face and sets aside the light meter. He returns to the front of the camera and selects the appropriate shutter speed from the dial around the base of the lens, quickly cocks the shutter with his left index finger, walks around to the rear of the camera, carefully inserts the film holder with his right hand into the right side of the camera back while securing the camera with his left hand. He turns the thumb lock and removes the dark slide with his right hand, slowly. He walks around to the front of the camera again, standing just to the left side. Turning towards the lens, he holds the dark slide up above with his left hand to shield sunlight from falling directly into the lens, while he holds the shutter release cable in his right. He glances over his left shoulder for a second to check the scene before quickly depressing the cable release with his right thumb. He drops the cable release and his left arm and walks around to the back of the camera where he reinserts the eight-by-ten dark slide into the film holder, turns the thumb lock, and removes the holder entirely from the camera. He places the holder that contains the exposed film into his storage box and closes the lid – into complete dark.


i Beaumont Newhall reading an excerpt from a script written by his wife and colleague Nancy Newhall itemizing the equipment that Ansel Adams (1902-1984) carried with him on photographic expeditions, from the film Ansel Adams, Photographer produced by the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York, in 1957.

ii “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” The J. Paul Getty Museum,

iii “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” Cleveland Museum of Art,

iv “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” Akron Art Museum,

v “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” National Museum of American History,

vi “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” Norton Simon Museum,

vii “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” National Gallery of Australia,

viii “How do the Moon and Sun affect tides and surfing?” Surfer Today,

ix Ansel Adams anecdotal voice-over from the film Ansel Adams, Photographer produced by the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York, in 1957.