This iconic photograph romanticizes the Western landscape at a turning point in American history. Commissioned by the United States Department of the Interior to produce photographs of the American West, Ansel Adams depicted a sleepy town in New Mexico at twilight. The photograph is separated into three distinct horizontal sections—the black sky, the white clouds, and snow-clad Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The old adobes and distant church speak to the romantic Hispanic legacy of the old Southwest. The sky dominates the frame, with the nearly full moon piercing the black sky above the town. Compared to his earlier photographs of Depression Era migrants, filled with political urgency, in Moonrise Adams creates a grander scene, filled with nature’s splendor and purity. In its simplicity, this image provides a possible answer to the question “what are we fighting for?” for a nation on the eve of war.
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