Washington, D.C. (January 22, 2008)--Late curator John Szarkowski wrote that Ansel Adams' photographs were made to illustrate "a profound and mystical experience of the natural world." But behind each resulting image of intense organic beauty was technical precision and experimentation that most will never know.
After an international tour with stops in Japan, New Orleans, Toronto and Detroit, Ansel Adams arrived at Washington, D.C.-based Corcoran Gallery of Art in September 2007 and will run through this weekend. The exhibition is organized into varying technical periods in Adams' career. Exploration of these techniques follows.
High Sierra and Canadian Rockies
Ansel Adams opens with the earliest work in The Lane Collection, Wind, Juniper Tree Yosemite (1919). Taken when Adams was 17 years old-just three years after his first visit to Yosemite-this soft-focused landscape, called "pictorialism" is characteristic of his early photographs. It also marks the same year that Adams first became involved with the Sierra Club, which brought him to many of the subjects of his early career-the landscapes of the High Sierra and the Canadian Rockies.
In 1927, Adams published his first major landscape series, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, which included Monolith: The Face of Half Dome (1927), an iconic work that represents a turning point in Adams' career. The photograph marks his first use of "previsualization"-a technique that Adams continued to use throughout the rest of his career-in which he would carefully calculate the effect of a photograph before taking it.
Adams was named the Sierra Club's official photographer in 1928, and the exhibition features a series of mountain views made during an outing to the Canadian Rockies that reveal important technical aspects of his work, including Mount Robson from Mount Resplendent, Canadian Rockies (1928), in which Adams used a telephoto lens to create a stunning close-up image of a mountain that was in fact very far away.
In 1927, Adams was invited to accompany Albert Bender, a friend and patron, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he was introduced to nature writer and Indian activist Mary Austin. This was his first visit to the American Southwest, and Adams immediately came to cherish its dramatic landscape, glittering light and diverse mix of Anglo, Indian and Spanish cultures.
During his visits to New Mexico in the years that followed, Adams created a series of photographs of the Taos Indian Pueblo. A very rare group of images from this time period, including Eagle Dance, San Ildefonso, Pueblo, New Mexico (1929) and Buffalo Dance, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico-intimate photographs that emphasize the dancers' costumes, postures and expressions-are highlighted in this section of the exhibition.
GROUP f/64: EXPLORING STRAIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
Adams' subsequent work of the 1930s reflects his involvement with the f/64 movement, a loose association of Bay Area photographers-including Edward Weston, Willard Van Dyke, and Imogen Cunningham-who experimented with large-format cameras to produce maximum depth of field and extremely sharp-focus images. This coalition of artists was devoted to photographic realism. The modernist evolution of Adams' technique began a lifetime of dedication to craft. These photographs-including many close-up still-lifes, both natural and man-made-mark a departure from Adams' earlier landscape style. Rose and Driftwood, San Francisco (about 1932), for example, is a beautifully rendered still life that acutely captures the delicate petals of the flower and intricate patterns of the worn wood.
Likewise, Fence Near Tomales Bay, California (1936) depicts a moss-covered fence in the foreground and mountains in the background with extraordinary clarity and detail. Other works on view in this section include the iconic Boards and Thistles, San Francisco (c. 1932), Political Circus, San Francisco (1932), an urban street scene of billboard posters, and Museum Storeroom, de Young Museum, San Francisco (about 1935), a room packed with plaster casts of classical sculptures.
Adams may be best known for his dramatic view of Yosemite National Park. Taken between 1919 and 1960, many of the artist's most familiar and popular views of the region are included in the exhibition, ranging from close-up still-lifes to panoramic views and distant landscapes. Classic works include Grass and Reflections, Lyell Fork of the Merced River, Yosemite National Park (about 1943)-taken from Adams' favorite place in the park-showing the reflection of a distant mountain peak in the water (later named Mt. Ansel Adams after the artist's death); Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park (about 1937), a photograph (represented by two prints from the same negative) that captures the hazy, tumultuous sky of a passing storm; and the serene winterscape Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park (1933). Another work, Edward Weston, Lake Tenaya, Yosemite National Park (1937) shows Adams' famous contemporary preparing to take a photograph against an extraordinary mountain backdrop.