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Ansel Adams More than a Landscape Photographer

Ansel Adams was one of the most famous art photographers who ever lived. His black and white landscape photos have been reproduced in books, and on posters, cards, and calendars around the world. But VOA’s Susan Logue reports, an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington shows there was more to Adams’ art than his landscapes.


Ansel Adams will forever be linked with majestic landscapes like The Tetons - Snake River and Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. They are among the “iconic images that we will always connect with Adams and continue to be his most popular pictures,” says Karen Haas, curator of the Lane Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The William H. and his wife Saundra B. Lane amassed the largest private collection of works by Ansel Adams. One hundred twenty-five of those images are currently on display at the Corcoran.

”The strength of the Lane Collection really is the fact that it has such a variety of pictures,” says Haas, “beginning with the very earliest pictures, in this case an image that was made when he was just 17 years old.”

Wind, Juniper Tree was taken in Yosemite National Park in 1919. It was the first of many images Adams would take there over his career.

”Yosemite was the touchstone in his life,” says Haas. “It’s where he realized that he was good enough and decided to give up his dream of being a concert pianist, which he had imagined he would do as an adult, and become a fulltime photographer.”

”Although he is known as a landscape photographer, he really more than that was a photographer of natural events,” says Paul Roth, curator of photography at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. ”He really photographed moments in time: weather, light, clouds, the drama of the sky.”

While nature writ large never ceased to inspire him, Adams, who died in 1984, photographed many subjects rarely seen in exhibitions of his work: traffic on the interstate highway in Los Angeles, chemicals that had dried in his developing tray, friends like artist Georgia O’Keefe.

In 1929 and 1930 he did a series of pictures of American Indian dancers in New Mexico. ”He was privileged to do that,” says collector Saundra Lane. “He got to know them. He researched everything, the dances. He knew all the particulars and why they did it, and would ask questions. He was insatiable.”

Lane says she and her husband got to know Adams well when they collected his photographs over a ten-year period in the 1960s and 70s. There was much more to him than the public persona of the gruff outdoorsman. “We all get classified into a box, which is typical, and Ansel flew out of that box many times.”

An image of a rose in full bloom set on a piece of driftwood is one of Lane’s favorite photographs, because it shows his sensitive side. ”The picture was taken the day his daughter was born. He went into his mother’s garden and picked it. He was sensitive. And a lot of the books don’t reveal that he had a tender side.”

Visitors to the exhibition of photographs from the Lane Collection will see that and the many sides of Ansel Adams that are rarely shown in exhibits of his work.