Published: September 11, 2007
For the first time in a decade, an exhibition of photographs by Ansel Adams will be on view in Washington, D.C. Opening September 15 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, “Ansel Adams” will give visitors a new look at the work of this important and influential artist through more than 125 images on loan from the Lane collection †the largest private collection of works by Adams in existence.
Acquired directly from Adams by the late William H. and Saundra Lane, during a ten-year period in the early 1960s and 1970s, the collection showcases Adams’s range and spans the length of his six-decade career.
Alongside several of Adams’s iconic landscapes, “Ansel Adams” will present rarely exhibited prints †offering new insight into one of the few photographers in the history of the medium whose name and images enjoy worldwide recognition.
Although best known for his dramatic black and white vistas of the American West, Adams (1902‱984) was a versatile photographer who made portraits of artist friends, closeup nature views, striking architectural and urban views and documentary images. This exhibition takes a broad and inclusive look at Adams’s work, with particular emphasis on his early career.
“‘Ansel Adams’ gives us the opportunity to explore the hidden depths of an artist known for just a few iconic images. The wide range and high quality of pictures in the Lane collection reveal a photographer with many dimensions, not just the well-known maker of dramatic landscapes,” said Paul Roth, curator of photography and media arts at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
“Ansel Adams” is arranged chronologically in several sections: “Early Work,” including photographs of the High Sierra, Canadian Rockies and Pueblo Indians, “Group f/64: Exploring Straight Photography, Yosemite, The American Southwest, Alfred Stieglitz and New York,” “The National Parks” and “Late Work.”
Adams’s photographic style, which fuses romanticism, poetic vision, technical precision and environmental advocacy, has had an influence on all landscape photography in its wake †and on how Americans see and think about their country’s wilderness areas.
Adams’s 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. Adams became a restless and innovative experimentalist, developing many now-standard photographic practices and reinventing his approach at many stages in his career.
Adams’s 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’s 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.
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.
Adams is equally recognized for his 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.
“Ansel Adams” is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which hosts the Lane collection under the supervision of Karen Haas, curator of the Lane collection.
A soft cover exhibition catalog, Ansel Adams, is available.
The Corcoran is at 500 17th Street NW. For more information, www.corcoran.org or 202-639-1700.
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