In a floodlit gallery, more than 80 photographs transport passing visitors into a black and white world of beauty and natural elegance.
These photographs were hand-picked by their photographer Ansel Adams and hang in the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.
“A bulk of the works are images Adams selected at the end of his life. These are the ones he saw as most important,” said James Nottage, Eiteljorg Museum vice president and chief curatorial officer.
Nottage said Adams’ photography life started with his first camera at age fourteen. After a trip to Yosemite National Park, Adams found his subject of choice—nature.
“He was criticized in the 1930s and ‘40s for not being what was considered socially conscious enough,” said Nottage of how Adams’ work was perceived by some.
Nottage went on to explain how that claim is just not true.
“He was deeply interested in preservation of nature, especially with the state parks. He was very active in the Sierra Club,” Nottage said.
The Sierra Club is the nation’s largest environmental organization whose motto is “Explore, Enjoy, Protect the Planet.”
Not all the works on display are landscapes and close-ups of nature, however. Adams also used architecture and people as subjects.
“In the 1970s, he dabbled in portraiture,” Nottage said.
One piece, “Georgia O’Keeffe and Orville Cox,” captures a moment in time when the famous painter is in the midst of a conversation with a friend.
O’Keeffe was only one of many other artists Adams associated with.
“Apparently he was really funny,” Nottage said. “He loved parties, he loved martinis.”
This more personal side of Adams is expressed through other prints, some taken by his own students, that hang alongside his work.
A video also plays on a continuous loop in the gallery.
“Film clips in the gallery will give perspective to the artist’s life, helping visitors understand how he worked and what inspired him,” said DeShong Perry-Smitherman, the museum’s public relations manager, in a press release.
Also part of the exhibit are some original photographs, which hang next to prints that Adams had tinkered with in his blackroom.
This lets the viewer compare and contrast the original to the final product. Because digital software was after his time, Adams worked without the help of a computer to adjust his images.
“Photography is both a skill and a stroke of perfect timing,” Nottage said.
He went on to explain a piece called “Monolith, The Face of Half Dome.”
After an entire day of shooting in Yosemite, “Monolith” is the product of the very last frame he took.
Acclaimed for the balance of shadows and highlights, “Monolith” is one of Adams’ more famous pieces.
Others, even ones that did not make Adams’ final cut for this collection, have been published in numerous books and magazines, including the Sierra Club Bulletin.
“The most important and biggest books of photography at the time were works of Ansel Adams. He was incredibly successful commercially,” Nottage said.
Some of these books are on display in the gallery.
“The Eiteljorg hopes this exhibit will leave a lasting impression with visitors, educating them about Ansel’s impact on their lives,” Perry-Smitherman said.
The works are organized to guide viewers through the exhibit as though the show is its own thought-provoking journey.
“The first two pictures serve as an introduction to the rest of the pieces,” Nottage said.
The audience is offered the opportunity to contemplate each piece and become inspired themselves by the powerful images.
“One way to measure how important an artist is can be done by looking at how important he was to other museums. Another way is to look at how impactful he was to other artists,”Nottage said.
By these means, the Ansel Adams exhibit is a must-see.
The show runs through Aug. 3, accompanied by the black and white rodeo photography of Blake Little in the upstairs gallery.
The Eiteljorg Museum is located at 500 S. Washington St.