June 29 - September 30, 2007
“Selecting the photographs for this exhibition was easy,” says Aprile Gallant, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs. “We’re putting up every Ansel Adams work that we own.” On view June 29 – September 30, Ansel Adams includes a range of well-known images from one of America’s most influential photographers, arguably the premier landscape photographer in the history of the medium. “We have a significant concentration of Adams’s work in the Museum’s collection,” Gallant says, “and it hasn’t been on view in a long time. This is a good way to show people a selection of some of his finest images.”
Adams is known primarily for his black-and-white depictions of striking natural landscapes, often monumental and romantic vistas of the American west. The artist was a founder of the f/64 group of photographers in the 1930s, which included Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston, among other notables in the field. The name “f/64” is a technical term, which refers to the smallest aperture on the large-format cameras that the group’s members often used in their work. This term also relates to the group’s aesthetic hallmarks: intensely sharp and detailed prints made possible by the resulting large negative and deep depth of field, and a preference for subjects with relatively constant light and little or no movement, such as landscapes and still lifes. Although Adams’s influence on generations of black-and-white photographers transcends this early stylistic orientation, he worked in this mode throughout his long career.
Highlights of the exhibition include prints of Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941; Half Dome, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls; a number of other signature images from Yosemite National Park; as well as shots of aspens in New Mexico, dogwood blossoms, and snow-covered trees. Also notable is a pair of portraits of Clarence and Ruth Kennedy, both of whom were professors of art history at Smith College and friends of the artist (Clarence Kennedy was also a photographer and professor of photography).
Following the spring exhibitions of Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art and Earthworks on Paper, this show continues the Museum’s presentation of works that engage the natural world and environmental themes. Adams’s best-known body of work depicts California’s Yosemite Valley, which he first visited in 1916, before it was designated a national park—and indeed before the national park system was created. His passion for this site and other western wilderness areas led him to become an early member of the Sierra Club, then a member of the organization’s board of directors for more than 37 years. Photographing the American wilderness raised public awareness of the value of such spaces, and his years of political advocacy resulted in the protection of the very landscapes that he often portrayed.
“This exhibition is a wonderful way to share the richness of Smith’s famed photography collection with our visitors,” says Gallant. “But of course, anyone can make an appointment to visit the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and see these and any other work on paper in the collection, any time of the year.”