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Ansel Adams: Inspiration and Influence


A unique exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California examines the work of Ansel Adams, one of the great photographers of the 20th century, in the context of the world of photographers around him and those he influenced. Ansel Adams: Inspiration and Influence, adds a perspective to the exhibitions celebrating the centennial anniversary of Adams' birth by placing his work in the context of the photographers who influenced him, the photographers who were his contemporaries, and his many students. The exhibition opens June 29 and runs through September 22, 2002.

The exhibition, which includes approximately 80 photographs, pairs a number of Adams' images with those by other important photographers, allowing visitors to compare the techniques used and the various photographers' artistic visions. Also included are candid portraits of Adams himself, taken by noted contemporaries. Wall text includes quotes by Adams commenting on his influences and expressing his views of other photographers and their work, and a demonstration of his knowledge of photographic history. (left: Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), Ansel Adams, 1954, Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. Copyright the Dorothy Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland, Gift of Paul S. Taylor)

Ansel Adams: Inspiration and Influence is curated by Drew Johnson, curator of photography in the art department and recent winner of a California Book Award presented by The Commonwealth Club for his book Capturing Light: Masterpieces of California Photography, 1850 to the Present (Norton, 2001). This exhibition is important, Johnson says, because "It places Adams in the context of the history of photography, particularly West Coast photography. Adams was unusually knowledgeable about the work of other photographers, both his contemporaries and that of 19th-century pioneers. This inspiration and influence becomes apparent when his photographs are studied next to the work of others."

Adams' first photographs, taken at the age of 14 when he went with his family to Yosemite National Park, were the beginning of a lifelong interest in recording nature and in conservation of wilderness lands. His images of the American West are some of the most-recognized photographs ever taken. Although Adams worked as a commercial photographer for 30 years, he is especially known for his photographs of the Sierra Nevada, the 400-mile-long mountain range that was the source of name of the Sierra Club, on whose board of directors Adams served for many years. Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, both within the Sierra Nevada, were the sites of much of his best-known work. The dramatic beauty of this area attracted other photographers as well, and the exhibition compares Adams' views of this landscape with those of such early photographers as Eadward Muybridge, Carleton Watkins and George Fiske.

Adams was one of the founders, along with Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Henry Swift, Sonya Noskowiak and John Paul Edwards, of Group f.64. Organized as a response to the pictorialism in photography that imitated painting and was in vogue at the time, f.64 was dedicated to the promotion of "pure" photography, defined in the group's manifesto as "possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form." The exhibition includes portraits of each other taken by members of this group as well as paired photographs of landscapes taken by Adams and others, and the text of a letter from Adams to Dorothea Lange in which he delivers a critique of documentary photography.

Adams was strongly influenced by Alfred Stieglitz, whom he met in 1933 and who mounted a one-man exhibition for him in 1936 at Stieglitz's An American Place gallery in New York City. Dorothea Lange and Adams collaborated on several magazine pictorials for Fortune, Time, and Life magazines, adding to his national reputation.

After moving to Carmel, California in the early 1960s, Adams helped to found the Friends of Photography, whose mission was to "promote visual literacy by presenting, analyzing and interpreting photography as the fundamental medium of visual experience." The organization moved to San Francisco after his death in 1984.

The third section of the exhibition introduces the "spiritual heirs" of Adams, who reflect his influence as a teacher, author and activist. Photographs by Robert Adams, Judy Dater, Robert Dawson, Minor White, Ted Orland and others are shown, many of these again in pairings with relevant works by Adams.

Exhibition Curator Drew Johnson will present a Gallery Talk about the exhibition on Sunday, August 4, 2002 at 2 p.m.

Ansel Adams: Inspiration and Influence is made possible by the generous support of the Oakland Museum Women's Board.

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