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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Going West with Ansel Adams

Leaf in Glacier National Park (courtesy of the US National Archives)I've always admired Ansel Adams whose crystalline technique and meditative style capture my imagination, so yesterday we finally made it down to the Harry Ransom Center at UT to have a look at the Ansel Adams exhibit that has been running since August and will end on Sunday.

I’ve read several books and spent a great deal of time studying his work, both formally and on my own, and several years ago I got to see a smaller exhibit of his work at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, but I was rendered speechless (once again) by seeing his work in person. The images jump off the walls; a few appear three-dimensional, and all invite the viewer to step into the American west.

Adams had the uncanny ability to bring the western landscapes to their fullest life in such a way that some of the places he photographed have seemed smaller and more ordinary when I’ve actually visited them. Perhaps the light hasn’t been right for me or the clouds not cooperating. Either way, the captured light on display at the Ransom Center is perfect and provides a wonderful way to visit some of these important American places in a couple of hours.

My favorite stop was Hernandez, New Mexico. I’ve seen (in books and online) and read about "Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico" many times, but seeing it in person was staggering. The level of detail that emerges upon close inspection of that particular image is something I’ll never forget. The little graves illuminated by the sun that set behind him just after taking the image stand out so clearly that with my eyes close to the glass, I felt that I was looking at a picture of graves until I remembered to stand back and take in the whole incredible scene.

With over two hundred images on display there are many other memorable stops in the wild and open spaces revealed in some of his most famous work such as the images of Half Dome, the White House Ruins at Canyon de Chelly (which I once foolishly tried to imitate with no success when I was there a few years ago), and the famous aspens that stand out so brightly against the rest of the forest as if spotlit by a focused sun.

One of my favorite things about seeing his work in person is the opportunity to stare into the shadows and see the detail that exists whether it is sediment layers in uplifted rock or leaves in a darkened forest. These kinds of details can’t be reproduced in books; one must see the images in person.

The exhibit lasts until Sunday and it’s free, so if you’re in Austin and haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s well worth the time to travel the west with the master himself.

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Blogger Jessica said...

I love the line about foolishly trying to imitate his work. Who among us has not been inspired to shoot a few black & white photos of nature with Ansel Adams in mind? Wish I could be there to see the exhibit.

12:09 PM  
Blogger James said...

I was going to post my old Adams attempt for a few laughs, but I couldn't locate it. Oh well. Probably better that way.

The Ransom Center also has the world's first photograph, which is part of the permanent collection and a cool thing to see before looking at Adams' work.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Lenwood said...

I went to this exhibit just before Thanksgiving, and I loved it. I completely agree with you, the images on display were absolutely captivating. I had to walk around the room twice to take it all in, one look at each picture wasn't enough.

7:54 PM  
Blogger James said...

Same here, I'm sure I still missed a few things. I wish I'd spent more time studying the urban images because I'd never seen those before, but the wilderness images were just so powerful.

8:00 AM  

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