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Ansel Adams

American, 1902 - 1984

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More than twenty years after his death, Ansel Adams (1902-1984) remains one of the world's most beloved and frequently exhibited American photographers. Although he was wide-ranging in his choice of subject matter-producing portraits, still-lifes, and commercial images-his grand panoramas of nature continue to define his career. While Adams is justly famous as a photographer specializing in these views, many of his landscapes simultaneously demonstrate his ability to capture nature's abstract forms.

As a founding member of the influential, California-based Group f/64 during the early 1930s, which also included Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, Adams espoused "straight" or "pure" photography, characterized by sharply focused and detailed images. He did not believe that the camera-a machine that produces pictures directly reflecting the visible world-was capable of creating abstract images. Still, in his 1935 instructional book Making a Photograph, Adams wrote that the skillful representation of nature involved "transcending the literal aspects" of the landscape. His desire to move beyond the straightforward depiction of nature is evident in photographs that employ elements of abstraction. The gelatin silver prints on view here explore the complex patterns of tree bark and stone, isolate stark shadows and highlights, and chart the haphazard yet balanced compositions formed by water and shifting sand. These aesthetic elements are further heightened by Adams's conscious choices to compress space or eliminate the horizon line.

In his 1949 publication My Camera in Yosemite Valley, Adams declared, "Instead of looking at an object until it becomes 'something else' (which so many contemporary artists feel it necessary to do in order to escape reality) I find one must look at it until it becomes its sublimated self." The works presented here reflect this sentiment; Adams embraced the abstract in order to enhance our experience of the literal world.

Transcending the Literal: Photographs by Ansel Adams from the Collection, 2008

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