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Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius

June 8, 2006 - September 4, 2006



(above: Guests of the Rockwell Museum of Western Art enjoying the exhibition Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius. Photos courtesy of the Rockwell Museum of Western Art.)


Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius, opened June 8, 2006 and will be on exhibit through September 4, 2006 at the Rockwell Museum of Western Art. Adams is among the few photographers in history whose name and work enjoy worldwide recognition. His stunning landscapes and intimate still lifes of nature continue to captivate viewers. (left: Ansel Adams, Oak Tree, Snow Storm, Yosemite Valley, California, 1948, gelatin silver print, 23.7 x 18.9 cm. Gift of the photographer. © 2005 by the Trustees of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Courtesy George Eastman House.)

While many come to know his work through widely published books, postcards, posters, and calendars, relatively few have actually seen his lushly printed original images. Inspired by the 100th anniversary of Adams's birth in 2002, the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, NY, revisited its extensive collection of Adams's work, creating a new exhibition of 150 photographs that reflects Adams's full career.

Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius presents work from the 1920s through the 1960s, including an early 1927 portfolio (one of only fifty produced) of Parmelian prints (gelatin silver emulsion on parchment paper). This is the first time George Eastman House has included this portfolio from its collection in an exhibition. Featured are many of Adams's most famous images of the American West -- Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941, Mount Williamson from Manzanar, California, ca. 1944, and Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, 1927. But prepare to discover equally stupendous, (if less well-known) images such as Mud Hills, Arizona or Water and Foam, or the wonderful abstract titled simply, Stained Wallpaper Near Alturas, Calif. Many will be surprised to see that Adams did not confine himself to landscapes, but also made portraits and other subjects as humble as fence posts into images nearly as monumental as his beloved mountain ranges.


About Anssel Adams

Adams's life story is as varied as his work. His role as an artist, ardent conservationist, writer and educator all had their roots in Yosemite. This is where he came to create, seek solace in difficult times, and where he met his wife, Virginia Best -- along with other artists, mountaineers and Sierra Club activists. Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada were the subjects of his first portfolio, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras (sic) in 1927, a portfolio of prints on view for the first time as part of this exhibition.

A gifted musician with ambitions to be a concert pianist, Adams struggled with which career to follow: music or photography. In 1930 he acceded to the lure of a life outdoors in pursuit of photography and gave up the serious study of music; however, throughout his life he would credit music for teaching him the discipline, patience, and perseverance he needed in photography.

From 1930 until the early 1970s, Adams, like many of his contemporaries -- including Edward Weston and Paul Strand -- accepted commercial assignments to support his family. These ranged from department store catalogs, car advertisements and marketing brochures to giant Coloramas for Eastman Kodak Company, murals for the Department of the Interior, LIFE and FORTUNE magazine work, and testing film for the Polaroid Corporation. Adams worked in color and black and white, but he never considered his commercial work part of his art. (right: Ansel Adams, Half Dome, Moonrise, Yosemite Valley, 1945, gelatin silver print, 26.1 x 33.1 cm. Gift of the photographer. © 2005 by the Trustees of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Courtesy George Eastman House.)

In the course of his long life, he would produce eight portfolios and have work in more than 500 exhibitions. A prolific writer, he published thirty-seven books and hundreds of articles about photography. Adams cared deeply about the wilderness and was an ardent environmental conservationist. His first job was as custodian of the Sierra Club lodge in Yosemite Valley, which led him to many friendships within the conservation movement. He would serve on the Sierra Club board of directors for thirty-seven years and was active in the Wilderness Society. His photographs were used in support of many environmental issues. Adams personally lobbied several presidents and Congress on behalf of wilderness preservation.

In 1932, Adams was instrumental in the founding of Group f/64, a short-lived but influential group of California photographers who brought artistic legitimacy to "straight" photography. Later in life he organized the Friends of Photography, a non-profit organization dedicated to the study and promotion of art photography. He received many national and international awards, honorary degrees, three Guggenheim Fellowships, and had a wilderness area and a mountain named after him. He is the only photographer to be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, which he received in 1980. Ansel Adams died in Carmel, California, on April 22, 1984.

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy these additional articles and essays concerning Ansel Adams and American photography:

more articles on American photography:

and these videos:



Ansel Adams is a 100 minute 2002 American Experience PBS Home Video directed by Ric Burns and Narrated by David Ogden Stiers. From Warner Home Video. Ansel Adams's photographs have made him one of the most recognized and admired names in art. A staunch environmentalist, the pictures that Adams took reflected a larger world view the photographer held to strongly.



Ansel Adams, Photographer 60 minutes "This film captures the spirit and artistry of the man as he talks about his life and demonstrates the techniques that have made his work legendary. As Adams talks of the country he loves, viewers glimpse his photographs juxtaposed with the landscapes he photographed. In a conversation with artist Georgia O'Keeffe, Adams discusses his association with her husband, pioneer photographer Alfred Steiglitz." "Outlines the long and prolific career of American photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) as an artist, conservationist, and teacher. Follows him to the locations of his most famous photographs, including Yosemite." [2] By John Huszar. 1986 (available through Las Positas College Library)

rev. 8/29/06

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