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Go Tell It on the Mountain: Ansel Adams at the Amon Carter Museum

May 23, 2010, 12:24 AM

Photographer Ansel Adams claimed that the goal of his art was “to rekindle an appreciation of the marvelous.” Ansel Adams: Eloquent Light at the Amon Carter Museum rekindles the marvelous aspects of the artist that over-familiarity threatens to extinguish. Through 40 photographs representative of different themes and periods of development in Adams’ career, this exhibition distills the essence of his work into one bright shining moment of clarity and, yes, eloquence.

“Ansel Adams was the last major artist to subscribe to the romantic tradition of American landscape, an artistic lineage that included Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, William Henry Jackson and Carleton Watkins,” explains John Rohrbach, senior curator of photographs. “This exhibition, comprised of prints from the museum’s holdings and a private collection, spans 50 years of Adams’ spectacular career and gives museum visitors insight into his vision of inspiring beauty.” Adams reached back to the very beginning of American art by transforming the ideals of the Hudson River School. Adams modernized Transcendentalism, the American revision of European Romanticism, through the fresh medium of photography, albeit in a painterly manner. Just as Cole and his circle painted the virgin American landscape of the East in a way Europeans never could in their environment, Adams photographed the landscape of the American West in a way his Eastern ancestors only touched upon briefly.

Adams told the story of Transcendentalism on the mountains of the American West. Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, a photograph from 1944 (shown), speaks of clearing and concealing. Snapped near the end of World War II, the image may simply be that of atmospheric effects in a pristine corner of preserved nature. Or, it may speak of the beginnings and endings guessed at as the long global conflict wound down to the final endgame. The “eloquent light” of the title of this exhibition shines through such images, which work on multiple levels and speak loud and clear to each generation. The clearing storm Adams shows here may once have reminded him of World War II, but in that clearing, that clarity, we may see instead the turning point that our generation seeks from the long, seemingly endless era of terrorism.

Ansel Adams: Eloquent Light aspires to the state of music. “A trained pianist, Adams often used musical analogy to explain his artistic practice—calling each negative a composer’s score and each print a unique performance,” the curator Rohrbach says. “He visualized his results at the time he made each negative in order to better reflect his psychological experience of his subjects.” There’s a consonance in Adams’ images that seems jarring by its coherence in our dissonant age. Each picture strikes a chord of dark and light in balance that strikes a chord within us, the modern viewer, so imbued with discordant modernity. In our age of multiple means of communication but a pervasive inability to speak to one another, Ansel Adams: Eloquent Light may teach us that going back to nature may be the real way to get back to one another, and ourselves.

[Image: Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, 1944. Gelatin silver print, before 1975. ©2010 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas Anonymous gift. P2008.5.]

[Many thanks to the Amon Carter Museum for providing the image above and press materials from Ansel Adams: Eloquent Light, which runs through November 7, 2010.]


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