Ansel Adams

February 4 - March 12, 2022

Scheinbaum & Russek is proud to be presenting an exhibition of photographs by Ansel Adams.  The exhibition includes some of his early vintage works from the 1930s to a number of his most recognizable large format landscapes, as well as unique 4 x 5” Polaroids.  The exhibition includes items of memorabilia from both Beaumont and Nancy Newhall’s estate and our own collections.  We are excited to be sharing the work of one of the masters of the medium with our community.

Ansel Adams name is synonymous with photography as an art form.  His visualizations and masterful technique are unsurpassed, and he holds a prominent place in the medium’s history.  Most of us don’t realize that his time in New Mexico had a huge impact on his life, and in fact, was influential in his life’s decision to pursue photography as his art form.  It was during his fourth visit to New Mexico in 1930, while staying with Mabel Dodge in Taos, to complete his book, Taos Pueblo (on exhibit) with Mary Austin, that he met photographer Paul Strand, a protégé of Alfred Stieglitz in New York, and decided that it was not music in his future, but photography.   In his autobiography, Ansel Adams: An Autobiography, he wrote the following:

During the first two years of our marriage I juggled two professions:  music and photography.  By 1930 I was wracked by indecision because I could not afford either emotionally or financially to continue splitting mytime between them. I decided to return to New Mexico to complete the Taos book, hoping the Southwestsummer sunlight and towering thunderclouds would inspire a decision.

 Arriving unannounced at Los Gallos, I found it so crowded that Mabel had not one guest room left. I was introduced to Paul and Becky Strand, who invited me to stay with them in the extra bedroom of the small adobe guest house that Mabel had given them for the summer. I knew photographer Paul Strand by creative reputation, and I had seen his photographs in handsome photogravure reproductions in Stieglitz’s great photographic journal, Camera Work. Paul was a buoyant spirit and Becky a serene and beautiful woman.

That first evening I dined with the Strands and Georgia O’Keeffe. Strand inquired politely about my Taos Pueblo project, then I inquired if he had any prints to share. He asked if I would like to see his negatives, since he had made no prints that summer nor had he brought prints from New York. Of course I would!

The next afternoon Paul took a white sheet of paper and set it in the sunlight streaming through a south window.  He placed me squarely in front of the paper and opened a box of 4×5-inch negatives. He handed them to me, admonishing, “Hold them only by the edges.”

They were glorious negatives: full, luminous shadows and strong high values in which subtle passages of tone were preserved.  The compositions were extraordinary: perfect, uncluttered edges and beautifully distributedshapes that he had carefully selected and interpreted as forms – simple, yet of great power. I would have preferred to see prints, but the negatives clearly communicated Strand’s vision.

My understanding of photography was crystalized that afternoon as I realized the great potential of the medium as an expressive art. I returned to San Francisco resolved that the camera, not the piano, would shape mydestiny.

Adams met Alfred Stieglitz in New York in 1933 and then in 1936 and was given a one-man exhibition at An American Place, Stieglitz’s premier gallery.  His work was also shown at the Museum of Modern Art in 1940, where Beaumont Newhall had established the first department of photography.

Adams and a group of fellow photographers, including Willard van Dyke, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and other California photographers, founded Group f/64.   This short-lived but impactful group left its mark on the art of photography in the United States.  These West Coast photographers believed photographers should approach the medium with large format cameras, contact printing, and no cropping or other hand manipulations to achieve the purest representation of their negatives.  They named themselves for a very small aperture on the camera lens in which photographs are extremely sharp with a very large depth of focus.  Group f/64 practiced what they considered “straight photography.” The group opposed the “pictorial” approach, which was popular with many East Coast and European photographers.  The pictorial approach popularized soft-focused textured prints of romantic subjects made to look less like photographs and more like drawings and etchings.

In many ways, the historic meeting of Ansel Adams and Paul Strand in Taos, New Mexico, eventually led to a unified approach to American photography.  This meeting of both “East” and “West” coast elevated “straight” photography and strongly influenced an American approach.

The contributions of Ansel Adams to further photography’s acceptance as an art form are many.  Besides his artistic works, he spent much of his time educating photographers in both the technical aspects of the medium and the formal aspects of image making.  His highly technical system of exposure and development called the Zone System offered photographers the ability to control the tonalities of an image to the point that one can turn black to white or white to black.  This complex system of understanding exposure and development when using traditional black and white materials liberated photographers from the technical side of things to concentrate fully on image interpretation.

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941, is his most celebrated photograph and possibly one of the most well-known photographs of New Mexico and of all time.  Ansel Adams described the exposing of this negative in his autobiography, Ansel Adams, An Autobiography, in these words:

Driving south along the highway, I observed a fantastic scene as we approached the village of Hernandez. In the east, the moon was rising over distant clouds and snowpeaks, and in the west, the late afternoon sun glanced over a south-flowing cloudbank and blazed a brilliant white upon the crosses in the church cemetery. I steered the station wagon into the deep shoulder along the road and jumped out, scrambling to get my equipment together, yelling at Michael and Cedric to “Get this! Get that, for God’s sake!  We don’t have much time!”  With the camera assembled and the image composed and focused, I could not find my Weston exposure meter!  Behind me the sun was about to disappear behind the clouds and I was desperate.  I suddenly recalled that the luminance of the moon was 250 candles per square foot.  I placed this value on Zone VII of the exposure scale; with a Wratten G (No. 15) deep yellow filter, the exposure was one second at f32.  I had no accurate reading of the shadow foreground values.  After the first exposure I quickly reversed the 8 x 10 film holder to make a duplicate negative, for I instinctively knew I had visualized one of those very important images that seem prone to accident or physical defect, but as I pulled out the slide the sunlight left the crosses and the magical moment was gone forever.       

It is an honor to have the work of Ansel Adams on our walls, and we are excited to share these master prints with you.  Although we have exhibited Ansel’s work in our 41 years, this is the first time we have had an exhibition solely devoted to his life and work.    

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