Outside Focus – Voices of the People: Ansel Adams’ landscapes on show at National Maritime Museum London

Today’s post is by third-year journalism student Kerrie Braithwaite, who is new to photography and has written her second review for Hotshoe Blog. Today she reviews the water-themed Ansel Adams exhibition currently on show at the National Maritime Museum in London.

Stream, Sea, Clouds, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin County, California, 1962 Photograph by Ansel Adams. Collection Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

“The works in this exhibition explore water in all its forms, from turbulent views of rapids and waterfalls to contemplative scenes of rivers and pools.”
Phillip Prodger, guest curator, Peabody Essex Museum

ANSEL ADAMS – PHOTOGRAPHY FROM THE MOUNTAINS TO THE SEA AT NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM
Ansel Adams‘ well-known large format images of American landscapes centred around water are presented in Photography from the Mountains to the Sea on show at the National Maritime Museum until 28 April.

Most of the photographs were printed by Adams himself and are accompanied by short passages to explain the photograph and its relation to water. However, looking at the large variety of images exhibited this is only one focus of his work. The exhibition shows how Adams photographed and played with the aesthetics of patterns and textures found within nature and from this created series of work. Adams’ mirroring technique made use of lakes and rivers and his sharply focused images connect the viewer intimately with nature. All of these focuses come together in a personal favourite, Maroon Bells, Near Aspen, Colorado, 1951.

The show begins with Adams’ early work, illustrating the influence of Pictorialism and his slow emergence from it, as well as the merging of Pictorialism and Modernism. The images are wistful and a reminder, for me, of how photography and painting once only tried to re-create what could be seen by the naked eye.

The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942, photograph by Ansel Adams. Collection Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

The display of the work is unusual and a variety of techniques are used. Some collections are sectioned off with low lighting; large screens show large formatted pictures and, towards the end, a documentary of the photographer’s life and career is screened in a medium-sized room with comfortable seating. Just when you think the exhibition is over, it leads on to another section, making it maze-like. The lighting is carefully directed at the images, giving the show a calm atmosphere.

Maps placed around the space show the locations where Adams took the photographs on show. Towards the end there is a small washing line with pegged-up notes hanging from it. The sign asks viewers to write down how this work has inspired them; some visitors drew pictures, some said it has inspired them “to travel through America”, to “go back to black and white photography” or “to go back to nature”.

Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, California, about 1937 Photograph by Ansel Adams. Image courtesy of David H. Arrington

Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, California, about 1937 Photograph by Ansel Adams. Image courtesy of David H. Arrington. Collection Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.

These photographs are more than detailed images of beautiful American scenery; they connect the photographer and the viewer to nature itself. Adam’s has revealed his spiritual journey by making these creations and connecting his viewers in the same way that he must have felt connected with nature and, for me, there is a sense of relief. Finally, there is a re-connection of humanity with nature as illustrated through photography.

Adams valued and loved the medium so much that he spent his life trying to convey this to a wider audience. However, there is also a sense of sorrow. Adams was a lonely boy with a close bond to his father, who supported his love of photography and it’s pleasant to witness in this exhibition what this boy grew up to become and what he created.

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5 responses to “Outside Focus – Voices of the People: Ansel Adams’ landscapes on show at National Maritime Museum London

  1. Makes me want to come to London to see the exhibition and to visit the places where the pictures were take.

    • Aaah, you are closer to one of these options, I think? I want to see the show too so will add my tuppence worth when I get there. Miranda

      • I’ve been to a few of the parks, but not for long enough and not specifally to stand at Ameams perspective and see it in nature. The work never stops amazing mie. I always discover something that I missed in previous viewings. Enjoy the show.

  2. How funny! I am just about to get ready to go to the Ansel exhibition (for the second time, my eyes need to see his work again & get lost in it)! Thought I’d just check your blog for anything new and here this is!

    • There we go, Kerrie saw it last month. I’ve still to get there but will do too. Let me know what you think, just add a comment to this post if there is anything that you want to add. Miranda

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