January 25, 2010

Museum hosts exhibit of Ansel Adams photos

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- University Museum at Southern Illinois University Carbondale begins the new year by presenting what may be the best-known exhibit ever to come to the museum.

University Museum welcomes “Ansel Adams: The Man Who Captured the Earth’s Beauty,” a display of 25 of Adams’ famous black and white landscape photographs.  The exhibit opened Sunday, Jan. 24, and runs through March 21.  There is a $5 admission charge for general admission to this exhibit, though the rest of the museum remains admission-free.  Students of all ages are exempt from the admission charge.  The reason for the charge is the cost of bringing this special exhibit to SIUC and of extra considerations in keeping it here for the duration of the exhibit.

“These really are his iconic images,” Dona Bachman, museum director, said, noting that for many people, Adams’ images represent “a sense of freedom and grandeur.” 

Adams (1902-1984) is famous for his hauntingly beautiful black and white landscapes, many taken in national parks in the western United States.  Some of his images, such as “Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley National Monument, California,” and “Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California,” are nearly as famous as the subjects of the photographs themselves.

Jordy Jones, assistant professor of cinema and photography history at SIUC, hailed Adams as “one of the greatest landscape photographers of all time” and an artist who “defined the photographic landscape for us.”

Even if one doesn’t know Adams’ name, our basis for evaluating a good landscape photograph is determined by his ever-popular photographs, Jones said.

Adams, a San Francisco native, began his career as a photographer in his early teens when he took a Kodak Brownie box camera into Yosemite Valley.  Though he trained as a concert pianist for more than 10 years beginning in 1914, he also studied photography with photo-finisher Frank Dittman.  Ultimately, Adams chose cameras over pianos, with a focus on the American West.  His first exhibit was in 1936 in New York City.

The images Adams presented through his photographs showed the American landscape in an eloquent light. However, Adams’ success wasn’t only in the images themselves, but also in how he captured them and in how he helped further photography as an art form.  He played key roles in founding the artistic photography Group f/64 in San Francisco and The Friends of Photography in Carmel, Calif.; and in establishing photography departments at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and at the California School of Fine Arts.

Adams also became associated with the conservation movement, with his images serving many as a symbol of the natural beauty they want to protect.  Adams was a member of the Sierra Club, and served on its board of directors from 1934 to 1971.  Adams won many awards during his lifetime, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented to him by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

This traveling exhibit of Adams’ work comes to SIUC as the last stop on a 15 city national tour organized by the Mint Museum of Art in North Carolina.