Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ansel Adams at PEM

Ansel Adams: At the Water's Edge is opening this weekend at PEM.  Yesterday I was privileged to see the press preview, and I am nearly speechless -- something that does not happen to me very often.

We all know that Ansel Adams' work is the work of one of (if not the) the most recognized photographers in the US, if not the world.   His work is iconic.  We all can recognize it.

For me, he is much more than that.  He is "my" photographer because I grew up in California at a time when his work was probably at the very height of its popularity there.   When we went to the bank, it was likely his photos that adorned the walls.  When we visited someone's home, there was probably a coffee table book of his photos on the coffee table.

When I saw the pieces in this show, I was overwhelmed with homesickness that I had not felt in many, many years.  While not all the pieces are from the West Coast, many are.  The Pacific is "my" ocean.  The waves breaking on the beaches in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties are part of my childhood memories.  The waterfalls and rivers are part of my recollections of my young adulthood, camping in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.  His very first photo, of the Palace of Fine Arts reflected in the lagoon surrounding it, was where my brother was married, was a place we walked to in our neighborhood.  I tear up just writing about what I saw.

So, for me, this exhibit is very personal, very poignant, and most certainly very beautiful.  What will it be for you?

Here is the press release from PEM which will assist you with more of the details you may want to know about this wonderful new show.

SALEM, MA -- This summer, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) will unveil an exhibition shedding new light on one of history's most iconic and beloved photographers. Ansel Adams: At the Water's Edge features more than 100 photographs combining famous images with extraordinary lesser-known works that focus on the artist's treatment and exploration of water in all its forms. Full of energy and dynamism, Adams' photographs of seascapes, beaches, bays, tide pools, clouds and waterfalls provide a fresh perspective on the artist's celebrated career. Ansel Adams: At the Water's Edge was organized by the Peabody Essex Museum where it will be on view for its exclusive U.S. engagement from June 9 through October 8, 2012, and will then travel to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, UK.
"Throughout his life, Adams was drawn to the water for its visual potential, exploring where elemental forces meet," says Phillip Prodger, exhibition curator and PEM's curator of photography. "As an innovative Modernist, he explored seriality, motion and time, using a range of techniques to capture a definitively fluid and elusive substance."
In this exhibition, drawn from the Ansel Adams Archive at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona and other prominent private and institutional collections, viewers will have the opportunity to see the pictures that Adams made for himself. Both grand and intimate at turns, these personal, and sometimes experimental images express his thoughts about the natural world, and often push the boundaries between realism and abstraction. Ranging in size from 3 x 5-inch prints to 10 x 12-foot murals, many will be appearing publicly for the first time at the Peabody Essex Museum. Adams was one of the first photographers to work in the large-scale mural format which has now become standard among contemporary artists.
At the Water's Edge provides a fresh look at Ansel Adams, as well-known and beloved pictures of rugged mountains, desert landscapes, and rocky cliffs blend with sparkling, spraying, whirling waters in all of their flowing power and reflective nuance.  The undeniable attraction of water as a photographic subject captured Adams at an early age. The very first photograph Adams ever made, shown at PEM for the first time, features a watery pool at the Panama Pacific Exhibition of the 1915 World's Fair, made when Adams was just 14 years old. Over time, his lens claimed the territory between Yosemite National Park and the Pacific, as well as Hawaii and Alaska, where he shot images shown in this exhibition.
Notably, he made a powerful group of photographs of New England, the only coastal location outside of California that Adams photographed steadily. Over a course of decades, he explored the coast from Connecticut to Maine, especially in Massachusetts, making repeated trips to Cape Cod and Boston's North Shore. 
Visitors will have the opportunity to see rarely-viewed objects, including the print ofGolden Gate before the Bridge that used to hang over Ansel Adams' desk, and which he considered among his very best photographs. At the same time, stunning, oversized exhibition prints of iconic photographs including Clearing Winter Storm, YosemiteTetons and the Snake RiverGrand Teton National Park and Stream, Sea, Clouds, Rodeo Lagoo, Marin County, California will be on display, among others.
One of the surprises revealed in At the Water's Edge is Adams' interest in using sequential imagery to freeze motion in time.  An especially powerful example is the majestic surf sequence, San Mateo County Coast, California, 1940.  Adams was possibly the first well-known photographer since Eadweard Muybridge to attempt to use photography in this way, employing seriality and sequence to create a cohesive narrative. Another series of photographs of Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, shows a different approach to sequentialityA poignant exploration of form, movement and time, they can be viewed as Adams' version of Monet's haystacks. As with Monet, Adams visited Old Faithful at different times of day, photographing in varying light and changing atmospheric conditions.
Another unexpected addition is the exceedingly rare Japanese-style screen, Grass and Pool, 1948, dating from a period of tremendous creativity in Adams' work. Standing on round metal feet, it was designed to be shown directly on the floor in a domestic environment. In subject and treatment, it was inspired by Asian painted screens in which picture planes are flattened and perspectives tilted. The three articulated panels can be angled to catch the light differently, the rhythm of the fold cleverly mirroring the angular pattern of the exposed grass.
For Adams, part of the appeal of creating such a work was thwarting conventional expectations about what a photograph might look like and where and how it could be shown. Like many modernists, Adams considered photographs not just as images but as objects - the craft and sheer physical presence of the work reinforced its significance as a work of art and the focus of contemplation.
The show opens to the public on Saturday June 9.  I do hope you will make the effort to see it.  I can assure you, you will not be disappointed.
I hope to see you here, or there. By the way, the Hawthorne Hotel does have a PEM package that includes tickets to the museum, your room at the hotel, and a gift card to their wonderful gift shop.  


1 comment:

  1. I'm very much looking forward to seeing this exhibit as even though all of the PEM's exhibits that I've seen so far have been wonderful, I get the feeling that this is one that will really be fantastic. When I first picked up a camera many years ago and started fooling around with it I wanted so much to be able to take photos like Ansel Adams - darned neigh impossible of a goal but one may as well set his/her sights high, right?

    The very first time I went to Yosemite in 1980 I recognized the wonderful vistas that I had seen through photos taken by Ansel Adams that appeared in one of those coffee table books you mentioned above and seeing them in person was almost as good as seeing them through his camera lens! Well worth the drive from New Jersey and then some!

    I'm not a native California but I've lived there and I definitely understand what you're saying in this review and can fully understand how this exhibit is one that brought tears to your eyes. I bet even those who've never been to the West Coast will have tears in their eyes viewing the photos of a man whom chances are good, all of us - and not just myself - who have ever or will ever pick up a camera would like to be half as good as!