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Transcending the Literal: Photographs by Ansel Adams from the Collection

March 1–August 17, 2008

More than 20 years after his death, Ansel Adams (1902–1984) remains one of the world's most beloved and widely exhibited American photographers. Comprised of more than 40 photographs selected from the Museum's extensive holdings of the artist's work, this exhibition focuses on Adams's less-familiar landscape images in order to demonstrate his innate understanding of graphic form and balanced design. While Adams is justly famous as a photographer specializing in detailed and atmospheric panoramas of nature, he regularly incorporated elements of abstraction into his photographs. This approach is readily apparent in Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley National Monument of 1948, a composition that emphasizes aggressive lines, high-contrast shadows and highlights, and rigid patterning. Here Adams compresses space and manipulates scale, stressing form and tone over the picturesque depiction of barren sand dunes. Although he did not believe that the camera was capable of producing images of pure abstraction, in 1935 Adams wrote that the skillful representation of nature involved "transcending the literal aspects" of the landscape. This exhibition celebrates Adams's sophisticated engagement with the photographic medium's ongoing interplay between reality and abstraction.

Main Building


Julia Dolan • Horace W. Goldsmith Curatorial Fellow in Photography

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