The iconic landscapes captured on film by renowned photographer Ansel Adams have come to the Springfield Museum of Art
If you’re a photography buff, or just a collector of coffee table books, you’ve heard of Ansel Adams. And from now until May 11 at the Springfield Museum of Art in Springfield, you can view the intricate detail of Adams’ muses: the American West and National Parks.
The exhibit, Classic Images: Photographs by Ansel Adams, is a collection of Adams’ works that he selected and printed for his daughter, Anne Adams Helms. Anne allowed the photographs to travel from the Peoria Riverfront Museum in Peoria, Ill.
“It’s like having the artist curate the exhibit for us,” says Ann Fortescue, executive director of the Springfield Museum of Art. “It makes the visit personal, an experience they [guests] can share with Ansel Adams.”
The self-guided exhibit leads guests through 72 prints, which span from the early 1920s through the late 1970s. Although somewhat chronological, the themes shift throughout the quiet, 3,000-square-foot space. The stark white walls and high ceilings lend to the iconic photographer’s wonder and love of the American wilderness.
Also at the exhibition, adults and children alike can check out a similar camera that Adams used during his career, an 8 by 10 View Camera. “Students can see what kind of camera Ansel used since their camera is in their phone,” adds Fortescue.
For all of his photos, he simply exposed, developed and printed the images. There were no corrections, just his attention to shadows and light. In the 1920s, soft-focus wax paper was popular, but Adams moved away from that technique. His “pure photography,” a more honest view of use of the art, sought out sharpness in the images. The details are so intricate that it’s hard to imagine that his images were never altered.
Around 1940, Adams’ accomplished the incredible detail in his photos using the Zone System, which he and Fred Archer devised. The Zone System moves from white to black along the maximum number of tones, allowing photographers to control the characteristics of black and white film, particularly the tonal range in the negative.
Adams’ love of nature began as a child growing up in San Francisco. “He had a personal connection to Yosemite, he was a naturalist and a guide,” says Fortescue. Adams also worked as a photographer for the Sierra Club. “[He] became a part of that and was inspired by other photographers.”
The environmentalist was mostly known for his photographs of the natural world, but the exhibit includes some images of people, such as Georgia O’Keefe (a friend) and the Spanish-American Woman near Chimayo, New Mexico taken in 1937. “Since he selected these, he was pretty discriminating about the quality of the photos,” says Fortescue.
You’ll find a variety of his recognizable images at the exhibition, such as Bridal Veil Falls, 1927, and of course, the renowned Moonrise, Hernandez, 1941. The story of Moonrise is legendary: he stumbled across the scene on a highway drive and only had time for one shot, which captured the graveyard crosses glowing in the moonlight.
The grandeur of Adams’ landscape images makes you feel small, like in Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, which Adams took in Yosemite Valley in 1927. “The aesthetic of his work … it’s so attractive, it draws you in,” says Fortescue. “He captured pictures of the U.S. that makes it look other-worldly.”
Visit springfieldart.museum for ticket prices or for more information about the exhibit.