By Woody Weingarten
Ansel Adams’ environmental images are so distinctive you can pick them out from a room away despite their being intermingled with works from photographers his work inspired.
That’s the quickest takeaway from a new exhibit, Ansel Adams in Our Time, at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The display, partnered with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, provides the expected: It’s striking eye candy.
But it also provides what may be the unexpected: It triggers your emotions. No matter how many times you’ve witnessed Adams’ gelatin silver prints, regardless of whether you’ve ever seen the actual pristine landscapes he’s photographed, you may find your skin filled with goosebumps.
You are guaranteed to find the familiar and the not-so-familiar.
The multi-section exhibit, which features more than 100 of Adams’ iconic black-and-whites, also showcases works by 23 contemporary artists, some of whom, like Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, have created collages that offer a colorful time-capsule of Yosemite. Others’ shots were taken from spots that Adams had previously photographed. Also included are prints by 19th century landscape photographers who influenced him (Carleton E. Watkins, John K. Hiller, and Frank Jay Haynes, for example).
In addition to Adams’ images from Yosemite, San Francisco, and the American Southwest that everyone’s most likely seen reproduced dozens of times (including that weird 1937 shot of his friend, artist Georgia O’Keeffe, and Orville Cox on the edge of an Arizona canyon) are an unforeseen photo shot through window bars, a marvelous still life of a decrepit fence and thistles, and the Marin headlands before the Golden Gate Bridge was erected.
In a press release, Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, of which the de Young is a component, gives the exhibit some perspective. It is “exceptional,” he says, “in underscoring [Adams’] brilliant legacy and the critical role that his works and others’ before him have played in safeguarding our national parks and other public lands.”
Adams, who was born in San Francisco in 1902 and grew up in the Sea Cliff neighborhood, made his first trip to Yosemite at age 14; despite being a school dropout, he became one of the most prominent advocates of environmental protection and conservation from his bully pulpit within the Sierra Club, which he’d joined at 17.
His first photos were published in 1921, and his prints of Yosemite became popular the following year. In an attempt to promote so-called “pure” photography (which encouraged a full tonal range coupled with a sharp focus), he founded Group f/64, an association of 11 photographers, at the de Young.
Recent fires from Canada that pushed clouds of pollution into the Eastern U.S. have reminded us that existential environmental disasters are possible every day; Adams photos clearly show the beauty and majesty of landscapes that have long been threatened.
Yes, his shots are available virtually everywhere, on postcards to send back to Peoria, on calendars to give you a different kick each month, on prints and posters that can be framed inexpensively. But the originals installed at the de Young, which distinctly show not only the photographer’s technical skill but his futuristic vision, should put this San Francisco exhibit on everyone’s don’t-fail-to-see list.
*** Featured image is: Ansel Adams (American, 1902–1984), “The Golden Gate Before the Bridge”, 1932. Photograph, gelatin silver print. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Lane Collection, SC69746. ©️ The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
ASR Senior Contributor Woody Weingarten has decades of experience writing arts and entertainment reviews and features. A member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, he is the author of three books, The Roving I; Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates; and Rollercoaster: How a Man Can Survive His Partner’s Breast Cancer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or https://woodyweingarten.com or http://www.vitalitypress.com/
|Title||Ansel Adams in Our Time|
|Production Date||Thru July 23rd|
|Location Address||de Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden
|Tickets||$25 to $40|
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review PICK?||YES!|