Ansel Adams made this celebrated photograph during WW-II, while documenting the Manzanar Japanese-American internment camp in the Owens Valley on the east side of the Sierra mountains. He writes in Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs:
'While at Manzanar for a fortnight in the winter of 1944, Virginia and I arose very early in the mornings and drove to Lone Pine with hopes of a sunrise photograph of the Sierra. After four days of frustration when the mountains were blanketed with heavy cloud, I finally encountered a bright, glistening Sunrise with light clouds streaming from the southeast and casting swift-moving shadows on the meadow and the dark rolling hills. I set up my camera on my car platform at what I felt was the best location, overlooking a pasture. It was very cold - perhaps near zero - and I waited, shivering, for a shaft of sunlight to flow over the distant trees. A horse grazing in the frosty pasture stood facing away from me with exasperating, stolid persistence. I made several exposures of moments of light and shadow, but the horse was uncooperative, resembling a distant stump. I observed the final shaft of light approaching. At the last moment the horse turned to show its profile, and I made the exposure. Within a minute the entire area was flooded with sunlight and the natural chiaroscuro was gone.'
The recent exhibition Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities at the San Francisco Museum of Art posits Winter Sunrise as an essential part of the visual dialogue between these two masters of the American Western landscape (fig. 1).
Early prints of Winter Sunrise are rare. One example, measuring 6 x 9 1/8 inches, is in the Princeton University Art Museum, gifted by David McAlpin. The present print was made circa 1950 and mounted on the type of heavy board that characterized some of Adams' bank murals from that time. The elongated cropping is also characteristic of early prints of this image.