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Techniques of Ansel Adams Explored
Corcoran exhibit looks at the Group f/64 straight photography movement, previsualization and other techniques.

Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958
2007 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Monolith–The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927
2007 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941
2007 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Self-Portrait, Monument Valley, Utah, 1958
2007 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

In 1937, Adams embarked on a road trip through the southwest with a group of friends that included Georgia O'Keeffe, whom he had met in Taos in 1929. Guided by Orville Cox, the group traveled to Canyon de Chelly, Zuni and Laguna Pueblos, through Navajo and Hopi lands, across Arizona to the Grand Canyon and then through Monument Valley and into Colorado. During this trip, Adams took the candid portrait Georgia O'Keeffe and Orville Cox, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona (1937). Shooting with a small 35mm camera and, therefore, unencumbered by a tripod or other large-format equipment, Adams captured O'Keeffe and Cox in conversation, producing a spontaneous and evocative portrait.

Another photograph from this trip, Aspens, Dawn, Dolores River Canyon (1937), is a view of a grove of bare aspen trees that contrasts starkly with the grandeur and more iconic views of Adams' later trips to the southwest.

In the fall of 1941, Adams was commissioned by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a photo muralist to document the National Parks of America. His works were to adorn the new Interior building in Washington, and as the first photographer to be included in this project, Adams again traveled to the American Southwest (Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico) to photograph the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Zion National Park, Saguaro National Monument, Mesa Verde, Walpi Pueblo and Carlsbad Caverns. In the early weeks of the trip, he made two photographs that would become icons of his career: White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly, made for the Parks project; and Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, a scene that Adams captured in only one exposure, through a chance encounter with this evocative and dramatic landscape. Adams continued the National Parks project through 1942, creating a series of photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Teton National Park and a series of the Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone.

Adams also spent a considerable amount of time in New York City in the 1930s and 40s. He made his first trip to Manhattan in 1933, where he met photographer Alfred Stieglitz, whose work and philosophy Adams greatly admired, and the two developed a strong friendship over the years. In 1936, Stieglitz gave Adams a one-man exhibition at his gallery, An American Place, which Adams maintained was a highlight of his artistic career. The time spent at there was pivotally important to Adams, and the exhibition features several photographs taken there, including Alfred Stieglitz at An American Place, New York (about 1939), showing Stieglitz at a desk surrounded by paintings on the wall. In addition, there are several photographs of Manhattan skyscrapers, including New York City(about 1940) and R.C.A. Building, New York(1941). This section also features Adams' influential sequential work Surf Sequence (1940).

When Adams' commission to photograph the national parks from the U.S. Department of the Interior was not renewed after 1942, he sought funding on his own to continue the project. He received Guggenheim fellowships in 1946 and 1948 that allowed him to travel to more distant national parks, including Glacier Bay and Mount McKinley Parks in Alaska, Hawaii National Park, and the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. Ansel Adams features classic landscapes from these trips, such as Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake, Alaska (1948) and From Hurricane Hill, Olympic National Park, Washington (1948). Other works are lesser-known, including close-ups like Moth and Ancient Wood, Interglacial Forest, Glacier Bay National Monument, Alaska (1948), and the visually confounding landscape Salt Flats near Wendover, Utah (about 1941).

Adams' work in the late 1950s and 1960s reflects many departures from his earlier subjects. The exhibition features urban views, including Freeway Interchange (1967), an aerial view of sprawling, interlocking highways, and Wall Writing, Hornitos, California (about 1960), showing a wall covered in heavy graffiti. An abstracted landscape, Dunes, Oceano, California (about 1960), depicts contrasting planes of sand through shades of light and dark and varying degrees of texture, while Aspens, Northern New Mexico (1958) is a minimalist view of a grove of bright aspen trees set against a more muted background. Also on view is the iconic Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California (1960), perhaps Adams' best-known late landscape.