A look at the early, intimate works of photographer Ansel Adams

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“Church of Ranchos de Taos”, Ansel Adams, circa 1929-30, gelatin silver print. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Acquisition of the museum, 1981 (1981.27), copyright The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. (Provided by New Mexico Museum of Art)

When referring to Ansel Adams’ work, most fans are reminded of the vast landscape of photographer Yosemite and his unforgettable vision of “the moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.”

But before he became a celebrity, Adams revealed a more intimate aspect through his early qualities and architectural studies. Ansel Adams: Pure Photography, held at the New Mexico Museum of Art, reveals this more delicate image through 16 prints from the museum’s collection and is reinforced with two promised gifts.

“I’ve always loved the work and never had an Adams solo exhibition alone,” said Kate Ware, a museum photo curator. “We have this wonderful little group, not what people think when thinking about Ansel Adams. He became Ansel Adams. He’s a common name, but how do you get there? Did you? “

In contrast to the dramatic landscapes that Adams later created in America’s finest landscapes, these 1930s works have a quieter vision that relies on richly portrayed details that convey the essence of his subject matter. is showing.

“Annette Rosenshine”, Ansel Adams, 1932, Gelatin Silver Print. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. A gift from Mrs. Margaret McKittrick, 1968 (2225.23PH). Copyright The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. (Provided by New Mexico Museum of Art)

Born in San Francisco, Adams was originally looking for a career as a concert pianist.

“There is a story that he saw the negative of (photographer) Paul Strand and made a decision (in pursuit of photography) in Taos,” Ware said. “That’s a good story, but he’s already decided.”

By 1932, Adams was thirty years old and was completely devoted to his photography career. He and his cohorts of Northern California photographers Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston formed Group f / 64 to promote what they call “pure” or “straight” photography. Their name refers to the number on the lens of the camera aperture that was preferred to bring clarity and sharpness to their images.

This group has moved away from the so-called “pictorialism” advocated by photographer / Impresario Alfred Stieglitz. This is an approach known for its soft focus and more romantic approach.

“Factory Building, San Francisco”, Ansel Adams, 1932, Gelatin Silver Print. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. A gift from Mrs. Margaret McKittrick, 1968 (2226 / 23PH). Copyright The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. (Provided by New Mexico Museum of Art)

Adams and his colleagues sought a clearer vision using a large format camera and 8 x 10 inch negatives.

“They weren’t cutting. They weren’t trimming,” Ware said.

“They almost tried to reveal the essence of what they were capturing.”

With a portrait of Henwar Rodakievich, an artist and filmmaker in the late 1920s, Adams was already moving towards this approach. However, his use of matte, textured paper softened the contrast and tone. In three sets of portraits, then created in 1932, he easily tried artificial light for clearer lighting and printed it on glossy, high-contrast paper that his colleagues preferred.

In the sharply focused “Leaves, Stumps, Frost, Yosemite Valley” (c. 1932) and “Pine Bokkuri and Eucalyptus Leaves, San Francisco” (1932), the viewer almost feels the knotty texture of his subject. can do.

“Leaves, Stumps, Frost, Yosemite National Park, California”, Ansel Adams, circa 1931, gelatin silver print. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift from Mrs. Margaret McKittrick, 1968 (2229.23PH) Copyright The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. (Provided by New Mexico Museum of Art)

“That photo of a pinecone. You can almost sniff it,” Ware said.

By the 1940s, Adams had moved his lens to a more spectacular landscape with a more dramatic concept.

A few later photographs, such as “Aspen, New Mexico” and “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” show his mature style in the 1940s, featuring a wider field of view, darkroom manipulation, and large prints. ..

“He was a very serious hiker and became an environmentalist,” Ware said. “And he liked weathered trees. It’s strange that he sees things.”

Rebecca Senf, Chief Curator of the Creative Photography Center in Tucson, Arizona, will speak at the museum on March 4th at 5:30 pm, along with his recent publication “Making a Photographer: Ansel Adams’ Early Work”. To do.

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