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Adams' Photographs Captured Peak Experience in Yosemite



Most people have experienced something special in their lives that they've later shared with friends, and photographer Ansel Adams (1902-84) did that in style in the late summer of 1938.

Adams -- whose name will be forever linked with Yosemite National Park in California for his dramatic images and his conservation efforts -- invited artist Georgia O'Keeffe and collectors David McAlpin and Godfrey and Helen Rockefeller on a back-country trip into the place that had inspired him since he was a teen.

"Yosemite 1938: On the Trail With Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe," at Carnegie Museum of Art, provides an intimate look at that venture via one of three photo albums Adams later created for the other participants using photographs he took on the trail.

The famed photographer first visited Yosemite with his family when he was 14 years old, and took some of his first photographs during that visit with a Kodak Box Brownie his parents had bought for him. Adams visited Yosemite annually after that, at times working with the Sierra Club as a trek guide. In 1937 he moved to Yosemite year-round with his wife, Virginia.

Accompanying Adams and his guests on the 10-day trip were four back-country guides and 14 mules to carry provisions and riders.

Adams began a lifelong friendship with O'Keeffe (1887-1986) when they met in 1929 at an artists' retreat near Taos, N.M. Each received acclaim while still alive for their depictions of natural areas: His, richly composed black and white photographs, particularly of national parklands; hers, paintings of abstracted, vividly colored flowers and Southwestern landscapes.

Adams had hoped O'Keeffe would paint during the excursion, but she chose not to. As all four friends served to reignite, by their enthusiasm, his momentarily depleted passion for photography, the show's title would be more accurate if it contained all of their names, or none.

However, after the trip, Adams did write to O'Keeffe's husband, Alfred Stieglitz -- himself a seminal figure in photographic history.

"To see O'Keeffe in Yosemite is a revelation, for a while I was in a daze ... She actually stirred me up to photograph Yosemite all over again ..." he wrote to Stieglitz.

And 20 years later O'Keeffe wrote Adams "In postscript -- I often think of that trip at Yosemite as one of the best things I have done ..."

McAlpin and Godfrey Rockefeller, both grandsons of financier William Rockefeller, were photograph collectors and had each purchased special cameras for the trip.

Following the excursion, McAlpin -- a businessman and philanthropist -- made donations to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art for the purchase of photographs. He also endowed a Princeton University Chair to teach the history of photography, as well as influenced, with Adams and Beaumont Newhall, the formation of the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Photography.

The album exhibited (as individual framed sheets) belonged to McAlpin, who died in 1989. It was given by his wife, Sarah Sage Stewart McAlpin, to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, located near Jackson Hole, Wyo. The museum curated the show, which travels annually to only one venue.

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