©The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust, Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – Lane Collection
Ansel Adams: In Our Time
When: Through Jan. 3
Where: Crystal Bridges, Bentonville
Cost: Free for students, service veterans and museum members and $12 for the general public
Information and tickets: Call 479-418-5700 or crystalbridges.org
Note: Because of new museum policies related to COVID-19, general admission tickets (which are free) must also be booked when tickets for “In Our Time” are claimed. See the museum’s COVID-related policies.
Ansel Adams holds a rare place in the artistic conscious of this country. Any black-and-white photograph of a landscape in the American west bring Adams to mind. Much of that is deserved – his striking images of national parks and this country’s undocumented areas over a five-decade-long career made him a household name.
But it’s also not fair or complete – photographers came before and after him. They inspired Adams, and his techniques were later expanded upon by more contemporary artists. This before-and-after idea is the central premise to the new exhibit currently on display at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. “Ansel Adams: In Our Time,” opened Saturday (Sept. 19).
“When we think about the national parks, or we think about the American West, a lot of times, what comes to mind are those grand vistas that Ansel Adams helped articulate in the public consciousness,” said Alejo Benedetti, assistant curator at Crystal Bridges, while speaking during a virtual press conference for media members.
Organized by the museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the new exhibit contains over 100 photos from Ansel Adams. Bookending those works are 80 more by 19th century photographers, then works by 24 contemporary photographers.
“It gives us the opportunity to look back in time but also understand how Ansel Adams’ legacy continues on through today and how it remains relevant through today,” Benedetti said.
The collection is not a chronological march. Instead, it’s organized into seven thematic sections based on the places Adams shot throughout his career. Each of the sections feature works by Adams paired with photographs by other artists. The exhibit moves viewers from Westward Beginnings, with a focus on Yosemite; Marketing the View; Becoming a Modernist, regarding his transition into more artistic offerings; Picturing the National Parks, about his role in promoting national parks; In the American Southwest, focusing on his fascination with the Southwest; The Other Side of the Mountains, including images of desert regions; and finally, The Changing Landscape, which deals with the aftermath of human intervention on wild lands.
His stature as a photography icon was forged via photos like “Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park” and “Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.” The exhibit includes the requisite descriptive details, such as a note included alongside “Tetons and the Snake River” that tells viewers that tree growth in the nearly 80 years since Adams took the photo now prevents park visitors from seeing the river in the same way he did. Photographs are truly a moment in time.
But the exhibit shines when it expands beyond the images for which Adams is best known. For instance, he took several images of the Manzanar internment camp where Japanese-Americans were sent during World War II. His images were subject to scrutiny by the government. But uncensored images made inside the camp by Ty Miyatake are juxtaposed next to Adams’ works. Those are followed by more recent works by Stephen Tourlentes, such as “Rawlings, Wyoming State Death House Prison,” from his series “Length and Measure.” Tourlentes’ image of the death row prison is also a landscape photo – one distorted by the always-on bright lights of the complex.
Similarly, there’s an image Adams took in 1935 of a California forest impacted by fire. The image of black rivulets scarring a tree trunk could have been taken earlier this week. There are more contemporary images of fire-ravaged trees alongside the photo taken by Adams.
“He claimed to have never taken a photograph with political purposes. But often, he photographed humans making an impact on the natural world,” Benedetti said.
The exhibit challenges viewers to contemplate their interactions with nature – but also to make them. Several interactive elements were planned to accompany the exhibit, but those were scrapped after COVID-19 made working in close proximity problematic. Instead, Crystal Bridges is hosting an outdoor photo contest, with the winning photographs being placed on view inside the gallery.
“Ansel Adams: In Our Time” runs through Jan. 3, 2021. Several exhibit-related events are planned for the coming months. For a full list of related activities, visit the exhibit home page.