Ansel Adams show opens at Farmington Museum
FARMINGTON – As America’s best-known and most-accomplished landscape photographer, the late Ansel Adams has had his work appear in so many formats that it sometimes seems as if it is omnipresent.
You can scarcely pick up a calendar, leaf through a book, stroll through a poster selection or browse an online gallery that focuses on scenes of the American West without quickly coming across one of Adams’ images of Half Dome or El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, a church at Taos Pueblo, the majestic peaks of the Grand Tetons serving as a backdrop to the Snake River or, of course, his arresting study of the moon rising above a tiny northern New Mexico village at dusk.
But Bart Wilsey — director of the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, which is opening the “Ansel Adams: Masterworks” exhibition this weekend — says there is still nothing that compares with the experience of seeing the artist’s work in a museum setting.
“These are the real deal,” Wilsey said. “When you see his images elsewhere, it may be a postcard or a poster, but when you’re standing right in front of a print, it is so crystal sharp.”
The prints included in this collection — 47 of them, which are said to be approximately two-thirds of a group Adams selected that he envisioned serving as the best representation of his work — are not in a large format. Wilsey said most are approximately 16 inches by 20 inches. But Wilsey maintained no one will be disappointed by what they see.
“The clarity and the sharpness of the images, you can just get lost in them,” he said.
The collection was organized by the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, Calif., in association with Landau Traveling Exhibitions of Los Angeles. Wilsey said it has been presented all over the country, including stops in Saginaw, Mich.; Oklahoma City; Charleston, Ill.; Arlington, Texas; and Portland, Ore. Wilsey, who earned his bachelor’s degree in photography, is especially excited about having it here.
“This is one I’ve been trying to get here for a while, since it started traveling in 2013,” he said.
The images featured in the exhibition are among Adams’ most well-known works, Wilsey said, including some that were captured in or near New Mexico. Among them are his famous photograph of northern New Mexico’s aspens taken in 1958, an image of the Dolores River Canyon from 1937 and his moonrise shot of Hernandez, N.M., in 1941. It is the latter image that has captured the imagination of so many viewers, including Wilsey.
“That’s one of my absolute all-time favorites. Part of it is what he went through to get that photo,” Wilsey said, referencing the famous story of how Adams and his support crew were driving along a highway north of Española in the fall of 1941 when Adams spied the scene before him just as the sun was falling. The group worked frantically alongside the road to set up a tripod and camera, and Adams managed to capture only a single image before it became too dark to continue shooting.
But that single frame has become an iconic image, an enduring example of the rugged beauty of New Mexico and the kind of compositional magic Adams was capable of weaving. Wilsey said it also demonstrates conclusively what a technical master Adams was.
“He knew how many footcandles (a unit of measure of the intensity of light falling on a surface) were coming off the moon, and he knew what to set his exposure to,” Wilsey said, marveling at Adams’ command of the finer aspects of photography — and his ability to access that knowledge at a moment’s notice.
“It’s amazing to me that he knew the craft that well,” Wilsey said. “He knew instantly what he needed to do to compose that picture. And he only got the one negative.”
There are other images in the collection that are just as synonymous with the American West — his photographs of Vernal Fall at Yosemite Valley, Monument Valley and Mount Williamson in the Sierra Nevada, for instance.
“It’s kind of a what’s what of his work,” Wilsey said.
Though it’s been decades since the images in the collection were shot, the work’s appeal seems to only grow stronger.
“I think that’s because he took just timeless subjects,” Wilsey said of Adams. “It was something people knew and can relate to. Even though he took it to a high art, a high technical ability, everybody could relate to it. It didn’t appeal to just total photography snobs. I think he was accessible to people. He wasn’t snobbish about what he was doing. He was very down to earth. That was part of the equation, too – he knew how to relate to people.”
The exhibition remains on display through April 2 and carries a special admission charge of $5 for adults and $3 for children. No public opening reception is planned, but a private preview and reception for members of the Farmington Museum Foundation takes place on Friday, Jan. 29. Foundation membership is open to anyone.
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: Farmington Museum Foundation members preview for “Ansel Adams: Masterworks” featuring a presentation by noted Adams scholar Jonathan Spaulding, author of “Ansel Adams and the American Landscape: A Biography"
When: 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29
Where: The Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St.
Admission: An individual membership is $25, and a family membership is $50. Both are available at the door
For more information: Call 505-599-1174 or visit fmtn.org/farmingtonmuseum