Portland Museum of Art

Portland, Maine

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In Praise of Nature: Ansel Adams and Photographers of the American West


The American West has been a source of inspiration for photographers since they first ventured west of the Mississippi River at the end of the 19th century. Tracing American photographers' exploration of the West from 1860 to 1960, In Praise of Nature: Ansel Adams and Photographers of the American West, a nationally touring exhibition organized by The Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio, will be on view at the Portland Museum of Art from January 19, 2000 through March 20, 2000. (left: Ansel Adams, Winter Sunrise, The Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, California, 1944, vintage silver print, 13 1/2 x 19 1/4 inches,Oakland Museum of California, Dudley P. Bell Fund, used with permission of the Ansel Adams Rights Trust)

Showcasing more than 150 rare photographs of America' s rugged, natural beauty, this breathtaking exhibition includes 69 works by Ansel Adams. It offers new appreciation for one of photography's greatest masters by placing his work in the context of 100 years of photography by his predecessors and contemporaries. In addition to Adams, the exhibition showcases works by 25 photographers, including Imogen Cunningham, George Fiske, William H. Johnson, Timothy O'Sullivan, Carleton Watkins, and Edward Weston. Also of note, In Praise of Nature: Ansel Adams and Photographers of the American West, traces the evolution of photography as an art form through depictions of nature.

In the mid-1800s when photography was in its infancy, aspiring photographers created a documentary of American life in the early West, depicting cities, haciendas, missions, and Native Americans -- many of which are now lost images. In the 1800s during the Civil War, Americans looked west for salvation, inspiration, and hope, and photographers found these qualities in nature. At the turn of the century, they continued to use their art to preserve the boundless wilderness, which was no longer a frontier but an outlet for urban and economic growth. It was photographs by Carleton E. Watkins and William Henry Jackson that convinced Congress to protect these regions as national parks for generations to come. In particular, Ansel Adams became an active proponent of conservation through the Sierra Club. (left: Ansel Adams, Dunes, Oceano, 1963, vintage silver print, Center for Creative Photography, 84:092:232)

Ansel Adams, one of the most recognized and admired photographers of the 20th century, created a keen artistic vision and technical proficiency during his highly successful 70-year career, which produced more than 40,000 negatives, 10,000 fine prints, 500 international exhibitions, and numerous books. Not only will the exhibition contain many of Adams' s well-loved classic, monumental views of the American West, such as White House Ruin, Canyon de Chelly and Winter Sunrise, but In Praise of Nature: Ansel Adams and Photographers of the American West, also features his more intimate, less often seen images of cacti and oak trees.

The exhibition also highlights Adams's friend and colleague Edward Weston -- considered by many photography scholars to have been the greatest photographer ever to live. Adams and Weston are compared and contrasted in their approaches to style and subject matter.

A 250-page, illustrated exhibition catalogue with essays by Alexander Nyerges, Director of the Dayton Art Institute and James R. Guthrie, associate professor of English at Wright State University, is available for purchase at the Museum Shop. After the Portland venue, the exhibition will travel to the Orlando Museum of Art (Orlando, Florida) June 2 through August 11, 2000 and to the North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh, North Carolina) October 8, 2000 through January 7, 2001. (right: Ansel Adams, White House Ruin, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1942, gelatin silver print, CORBIS/Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust)

Read more about the Portland Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/26/10

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