Sheer stone faces rising above spiky conifer forests. A cold full moon suspended over a tiny New Mexican village. A waterfall’s feathery flow, frozen in time. A tree leaf in almost tactile detail. Western skies contested by clouds and mountain peaks.
They’re images captured in black-and-white photographs by Ansel Adams, whose technical skill and eye for nature and composition made him one of America’s top photographers of the 20th century.
Nearly 30 of those photographs go on display in Waco beginning Tuesday with the opening of “Ansel Adams: Distance and Detail” at Baylor University’s Martin Museum of Art.
The touring collection, drawn from the Bank of America’s art holdings, has been shown at the World Forestry Center in Portland, Ore., and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It’s the first Ansel Adams exhibition in Waco since 1993 when Art Center Waco displayed his studies of the Manzanar Relocation Center where Japanese-Americans were detained during World War II.
Adams, a native of San Francisco, began his career in the 1920s after being bitten by the photography bug during a family vacation at Yosemite National Park in California. He became known for his black-and-white landscapes from the American West, particularly his studies in Yosemite, and his work in nature made him an environmentalist. Adams died in 1984.
“He almost single-handedly made the art of photography widely popular,” said John Rohrbach, senior curator of photographs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. The Fort Worth museum has one of the nation’s largest photographic collections, with more than 40,000 prints. Some 50 to 60 of those are Adams photographs, Rohrbach said.
Adams was a master at imagining the natural light and emotional character of the image he wanted, then finding the time of day and position needed to capture it, Rohrbach noted. During a time when photographers were shifting to smaller, handier 35mm film, Adams stayed with larger 4x5 and 8x10 film negatives, which gave his photographs their remarkable detail.
The beauty of his photos of national parks and western landscapes showed the power of photography in promoting environmental preservation, something Adams honed with his work with the Sierra Club. “He really set the model of how we think about those parks,” said the curator.
An informal, but telling mark of Adams’ stature in photography: He was the only photographer to make the cover of Time magazine, said Rohrbach.
The Martin Museum has planned several related events during the exhibition’s run, including film footage of Adams and lectures on photography, art and the environment. About 20 minutes of film footage showing the photographer in action will be shown at 3 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Rebecca Senf, curator of photography at the University of Arizona Ansel Adams Archive’s Center for Creative Photography, will talk on “Ansel Adams: Environmentalism Born Of Experience” from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Sept. 26.
Department of the Interior case manager Dr. Kevin Reynolds will speak on the department’s work in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, at 5 p.m. Oct. 17 in Room 149 adjacent to the museum.
Baylor photography professor Susan Mullally will talk about Adams’ images in an Oct. 21 Free Lunch Monday from noon to 1 p.m. Reservations for the lunch and informal chat are required by Oct. 11; those interested can call 710-3503 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to the Ansel Adams exhibition, the Martin Museum will open a second show on Tuesday, “Robert Reed: Galactic Journal.” Reed will speak on his work in a lecture at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at the museum with a reception and gallery talk following from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
“Ansel Adams: Distance and Detail”
When, where: Tuesday through Nov. 14 at Martin Museum of Art in Baylor University’s Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center.
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Free.