Magazine article USA TODAY

A Walk-Through with Ansel Adams

Magazine article USA TODAY

A Walk-Through with Ansel Adams

Article excerpt

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ALONGSIDE SEVERAL of his iconic landscapes, "Ansel Adams" presents rarely seen prints--offering new insight into one of the few photographers in the history of the medium whose name and images enjoy worldwide recognition. Although best known for his dramatic black and white vistas of the American West, Adams (1902-84) was a versatile photographer who made portraits of artist friends, close-up nature views, striking architectural mid urban perspectives, and documentary images. This exhibition takes a broad and inclusive look at Adams' work, with particular emphasis on his early career.

The exhibit is arranged chronologically in several sections:

Early Work: High Sierra and Canadian Rockies. "Adams" opens with the earliest work in the exhibit, "Wind, Juniper Tree Yosemite" (1919). Taken when he was 17 years old--three years after his first visit to Yosemite--this soft-focused landscape is characteristic of his early photographs. It also marks the same year that Adams first became involved with the Sierra Club, which brought him to many of the subjects of his early career--the landscapes of the High Sierra and the Canadian Rockies.

In 1927, Adams published his first major landscape series, "Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras," which included "Monolith--The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park" (1927), an iconic work that represents a turning point in Adams' career. The photograph marks his first use of "previsualization"--a technique that Adams continued to employ throughout the rest of his career--in which he carefully would calculate the effect of a photograph before taking it.

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Adams was named the Sierra Club's official photographer in 1928, and the exhibition features a series of mountain views made during an outing to the Canadian Rockies that reveal important technical aspects of his work, including "Mount Robson from Mount Resplendent, Canadian Rockies" (1928), in which he utilized a telephoto lens to create a stunning close-up image of a mountain that was, in fact, very far away.

Pueblo Indians. In 1927, Adams was invited to accompany Albert Bender, a friend and patron, to Santa Fe, N.M., where he was introduced to nature writer and Indian activist Mary Austin. This was his first visit to the Southwest, and Adams immediately came to cherish its dramatic landscapes, glittering light, and mix of Anglo, Indian, and Spanish cultures.

During his visits to New Mexico in the years that followed, Adams created a series of photographs of the Taos Indian Pueblo. A very rare group of images from this time period, including "Eagle Dance, San Ildefonso, Pueblo, New Mexico" (1929) and "Buffalo Dance, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico" (c. 1930)--intimate photographs that emphasize the dancers' costumes, postures, and expressions--are highlighted in this section of the exhibition.

Group f/64: Exploring Straight Photography. Adams' subsequent work of the 1930s reflects his involvement with the f/64 movement, a loose association of Bay Area photographers--including Edward Weston, Willard Van Dyke, and Imogen Cunningham--who experimented with large-format cameras to produce maximum depth of field and extremely sharp-focus images. These photographs--including many close-up still fifes, both natural and manmade--mark a departure from Adams' earlier landscape style. "Rose and Driftwood, San Francisco" (c. 1932), for example, is a beautifully rendered still fife that acutely captures the delicate petals of the flower and intricate patterns of the worn wood.

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Likewise, "Fence Near Tomales Bay, California" (1936) depicts a moss-covered fence in the foreground and mountains in the background with extraordinary clarity and detail. Other works on view in this section include the iconic "Boards and Thistles, San Francisco" (c. 1932), "Political Circus, San Francisco" (1932), an urban street scene of billboard posters, and "Museum Storeroom, de Young Museum, San Francisco" (c. …

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