For Students

Past Exhibitions: 2002

Ansel Adams: A Centennial Celebration

July 20-September 22, 2002
Box Gallery

Kara Walker
Ansel Adams
Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958 (print 1980)
gelatin silver print
Gift of Harry H. Lunn, Jr. 1982/2.75

In observance of the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Ansel Adams (1902-1984), UMMA has created an exhibition of celebrating this master of twentieth-century photography. Best known for his extraordinary views of majestic landscapes, Adams also produced riveting portraits, fascinating still lifes, and engaging studies of trees. The exhibition will look at all these aspects of Adams's career through works drawn from UMMA's collections and private collections in the region.

Born in San Francisco, Adams lived there for sixty years, spending the last two decades of his life in northern California. A noted pianist, Adams chose photography over music, due in part to a life-long love affair with Yosemite National Park, which he first encountered in the summer of 1916. Always seeking to get "closer to elemental things," Adams created a series of pivotal images in 1927, including his famous photograph of Half Dome. The early 1930s witnessed a period of recognition for the young photographer, as his work continued to seek out the poetic power of the landscapes and objects he captured. While criticized by some by not capturing on film the social crisis of the Depression, as did many of his fellow photographers, Adams pursued his singular vision, believing photographs should function as art rather than social commentary or documentation. At the same time, however, Adams's photographs were a form of commentary - on nature and on man's responsibility to it. Adams served on the Board of the Sierra Club, traveling to Washington D.C. in 1936 to lobby to make Yosemite a national park.

During the next twenty years, Adams was at the height of his powers. His images increase in grandeur, power, and heroism. The horizons of his landscapes appear low in his compositions, and the viewer becomes lost in the "Ansel Adams sky." In the later 1950s and 60s, Adams created some seminal works, but he also re-visited older negatives, printing them again with different results. The newer prints take on an increased sense of drama and demonstrate another way of seeing, capturing, and re-presenting the moment of inspiration.

In his landscape images, Adams will always be associated first and foremost with Yosemite and the many natural wonders that national park afforded him. His images, however, were hardly limited to that one geographic area and this exhibition presents work from his many travels, from the deserts of the southwest to the wildernesses of Alaska. Adams also created numerous photographs of the intimate details of nature. These close-up views and still lifes possess the same subtlety and power as his more celebrated views of mountains and canyons. Similarly, Adams's extraordinary portraits of people capture all the individual characteristics of the sitter with the same precision he used in capturing "portraits" of the landscape. Whether of another fellow photographer Edward Weston or painter Georgia O'Keeffe, Adams's portraits showcase his technical expertise as well as a bit of the personality of the sitter.

While he is no longer with us, Ansel Adams created images that remain as alive and engaging as they were the year they were made, encouraging us to see the world around us with new eyes. In particular, his love for the landscape, which inspired him throughout his long career, continues to influence new generations with an awe and respect for the American landscape.

Sean M. Ulmer
University Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

This exhibition is made possible in part by Ann Arbor Commerce Bank.