Ansel Adams and the American Landscape

ansel adams

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art presents Ansel Adams: An American Perspective until June 1, 2014. The retrospective features approximately 60 photographs from Ansel Adams’ career from 1920 to 1965.

Ansel Adams, one of the most distinguished American photographers and conservationists of the 20th century, set the precedent with his extraordinary ability to capture the beauty in nature. More than any other photographer, Adams brought an appreciation to the art form and advanced photography as an art medium.  In his career, Adams created over 40,000 photographs, both in the commercial and fine arts domain.

His accolades were numerous and included the prestigious Medal of Freedom for his efforts as a “visionary and environmentalist.” When presented this honor by President Jimmy Carter, the president noted that Ansel Adams was insightful in his work to preserve the nation’s wild landscape, in pictures and on Earth.

Adams set forth on becoming a celebrated photographer after following a brief musical career.  As a teen, he was a lover of nature, enjoying solitary walks through the “still-wild reaches of the Golden Gate” bridge, or the nearby dunes and beaches.

His parents gave him a Kodak Box Brownie camera that he hung around his neck while hiking and exploring the California wilderness. However, it was in the Yosemite Valley where Adams found his passion that carved out his destiny. His first published photographs appeared in the 1922 Sierra Club bulletin.

The Oklahoma City retrospective takes a snapshot of his prolific life from his very beginnings. It starts with the exploration of the splendor and solace of the “wild” American West. The exhibit progresses to his portraits of family and friends such as Alfred Stieglitz, and then onto his “brand” – the black and white photographs that are identifiable around the world.

ansel adams

The retrospective reveals Adams’ vision, dynamism and the gambles he took so that he could flourish as a photographer and conservationist. Not only does the exhibit survey his lesser known works in conjunction with his renowned works, but the museum put Adams’ photographs together with another 20th century photographer, Brett Weston in the Brett Weston: Land, Sea and Sky exhibit.

The union of the two exhibits is seamless. Even though each photographer’s methods are dissimilar, the two are both celebrated photographers recognized for their “dramatic depictions of the natural world.” Adams preferred more imposing imagery while Weston opted for more abstract, but both shared the same ideology of high-contrast images, and “straight photography,” where “clarity of the lens” was emphasized, and the photograph was never manipulated.

Included in the exhibit, visitors will view iconic images like Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941), Monolith The Face of Half Dome (1927), Yosemite Valley, California (1944), among other works.

Adams involved himself in the conservation of wilderness and national parks and was a supporter of “environmental mendacity.” However, his activism in preservation was independent of his photographic work, and he never created an image expressly for conservational intentions.

Ansel Adams was simply impassioned by photography. His 20th century photographs of the American West are familiar not only as an image, but for their remarkable application, and stark black and white impressions that impart an ageless splendor to the “Wild West.” Photography and conservation was Ansel Adams’ life work, and his love for the natural beauty of the American landscape will remain eternal.

By: Dawn Levesque


Ansel Adams

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Oklahoma City Museum of Art

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