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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

Between 1936 and the early 1970s, Adams also created a series of Japanese-style folding screens. The first was a three-panel screen made from an enlargement of his photograph, Leaves, Mills College (c. 1931). He is thought to have produced only about 12 to 15 decorative screens over the course of his career, though few survive. Ansel Adams features two screens, including the Lane Collection's Grass and Pool (about 1948) and Leaves, Owens Valley, California (1950), lent by the George Eastman House, Rochester. Adams' folding screens are rarely exhibited or reproduced.

More information about Ansel Adams is available at

Ansel Adams was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Adams photographs from the Corcoran's own collection, from the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, and from private collections have been added to the original exhibition, augmenting the existing Lane Collection.

Adams' photographic style, which fuses romanticism, poetic vision, technical precision and environmental advocacy, has had an unparalleled influence on all landscape photography in its wake-and on how Americans see and think about their country's wilderness areas.

Born in 1902 to an upper class family in San Francisco, Adams was an unusually curious and precocious child. Trained by private tutors after the age of twelve, he began preparing for a career as a concert pianist. At the age of fourteen, he simultaneously discovered photography and Yosemite Valley National Park in California, using his first camera to record views during a family trip. After his 1928 marriage to Virginia Best, daughter of a Yosemite concessionaire, Adams devoted himself to photography.

Adams' earliest landscape photography reflected the prevailing soft-focus "pictorialism" common to art photography of the time. In 1930, he met New York photographer and filmmaker Paul Strand, who fused hard-edged modernist aesthetics with social concern in his pioneering work. Strand's commitment to photography as a medium for direct, realistic depiction influenced Adams greatly. By the time of his first solo museum exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in 1931, Adams had found his mature style. In 1932, Adams joined fellow photographers Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Willard van Dyke, and John Paul Edwards, among others, to form Group f/64, a coalition of artists devoted to photographic realism. The modernist evolution of Adams' technique began a lifetime of dedication to craft. Adams became a restless and innovative experimentalist, developing many now-standard photographic practices and reinventing his approach at many stages in his career.

Adams' sharply-focused wilderness views became immensely popular, and his fame spread beyond the art world. His books Making a Photograph: An Introduction to Photography (1935), and Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail (1938) expanded his audience from camera hobbyists to a broad public interested in the American western landscape. Adams' reputation was further established by a 1936 show at Alfred Stieglitz's gallery An American Place, and by his inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art's first historical survey of the medium in 1937. Throughout that decade and into the 1950s, Adams photographed the natural scene and promoted his own work through publications, exhibitions, and personal appearances. Later books, such as Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada (1948), My Camera in the National Parks (1950), and This is the American Earth (1960), made Adams the best-known and most widely respected photographic artist in the world.

Though known principally for his imagery, Adams is perhaps equally important as a pioneering educator and a tireless crusader for the institutional recognition of photography as a fine art. He was a driving force behind the establishment of the photography departments at New York's Museum of Modern Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 1946 he founded the Department of Photography at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco (now the San Francisco Art Institute). With photographer Minor White and others Adams created the photo journal Aperture in 1952, and his Yosemite Workshops revolutionized photographic education from their inception in 1955. In later years Adams continued to advocate for photography's acceptance as an art form, co-founding The Friends of Photography in 1967 and the Center for Creative Photography in 1975.

Adams is equally recognized for his important role in the development of the environmental movement in the United States. A longtime member of the Sierra Club's board of directors, Adams intended his photographs to inspire the conservation of natural resources. His art had a great impact on public policy throughout his career, particularly on the creation of the Kings Canyon National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. His fame gave him unusual access to national leaders, and he tirelessly lobbied congressmen, Secretaries of the Interior, and Presidents of the United States from the 1930s onward.

By the late 1950s Adams' environmentalism and energetic work on behalf of the medium began to supersede his own creative work. Experiments with new techniques, tools, and materials led to diverse types of imagery, and he made fewer of the iconic landscapes for which he was best known. As demand for his older work increased, Adams began to print many of his earlier images in a more graphic style, using dramatic tonal contrasts to recast his original vision (in the manner, he said, that older musical compositions are reinterpreted by subsequent generations of musicians). The popularity of these new prints, and the increasing ubiquity of Adams' imagery in books and on posters and calendars, played a significant role in the establishment of a market for fine art photography. By the time of his death in 1984, Adams was as widely known and celebrated as any other artist before him.