North Carolina Museum of Art

Raliegh, NC



In Praise of Nature: Ansel Adams and Photographers of the American West

October 8, 2000 - January 7, 2001


Praised as a genius with a camera, he was also a technical master in the darkroom. His name evokes images of dramatic panoramas, jagged mountain peaks, billowing clouds and towering trees. His sympathetic approach to capturing the grandeur and beauty of the outdoors was accentuated by his fervent support of environmental causes, especially the Sierra Club.

For many, the work of Ansel Adams, represents the pinnacle of photography, forever reverent in its praise for the wonders of nature. More than 60 of Adams' legendary photographs highlight the exhibition "In Praise of Nature: Ansel Adams and Photographers of the American West," opened at the North Carolina Museum of Art Oct. 8 and continues through Jan. 7, 2001. (left: Ansel Adams, The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942, vintage silver print, 10 1/2 x 13 3/8 inches, Collection Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, 84:092:190)

In Praise of Nature places Adams' work within the broader context of 100 years of photography of the American West, emphasizing nature's profound spiritual influence on Adams and 25 other photographers who are also featured, including Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, Alvin Langdon Coburn Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham. The exhibition comprises nearly 130 images by some of America's most important photographers working between 1860 and 1960.

Over the course of his successful 70-year-career, Adams produced more than 40,000 negatives, 10,000 fine prints, 500 international exhibitions and numerous books. In Praise of Nature provides visitors with a broad overview of his career. Images range from well-loved, monumental views of the American West, such as Moonrise, Hernandez, Canyon de Chelly and Winter Sunrise, as well as more intimate and less-often seen photographs of cacti and oaks.

During the 19th century, the American wilderness was seen as the physical expression of the divine, unsullied by civilization. Writers beginning with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau praised the redeeming value of nature while photographers celebrated the glory of the land. "Western American photography in the 19th century has often been dismissed as tourist images for sedentary Easterners eager for a glimpse of the great frontier," said John Coffey, coordinating curator of the exhibition, chair of the NCMA's curatorial department and curator of American and modern art. "But behind this documentary façade lies a deeper meaning reflecting the ongoing struggle of a fledgling country in search of itself in the midst of transforming into an urban and industrialized society. These photographs address the widening schism between humanity and nature."

Works by 19th-century greats William Henry Jackson, Carleton E. Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge and George Fiske, provide the setting for photography's foray into the West. Ranging from documentary photographs commissioned by railroad patrons to photographs depicting the natural wonders of Western North America intended for the mass commercial market, these works support the imperialist view of the land as virgin territory there for the taking.

With the turn of the century, the West was declared "closed" as a frontier. Writers - chief among them John Muir - turned their focus on the West as an endangered wilderness, depicting the beauty of nature threatened by the ever-encroaching civilization. This cry prompted the creation of the National Park system and the conservation movement. The work of 20th-century photographers, including Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, depicted the West with sensitivity to both its beauty and the stark realities of nature as an omnipresent force.

The exhibition pays special attention to Weston who, despite his often misunderstood abstract-like photographs of natural elements, was akin to Adams in many ways. The style and subject matter of Adams and Weston are compared and contrasted.

Media sponsor for In Praise of Nature is Time Warner Cable; the airline sponsor is Midway Airlines. Support from state funds and private donations is administered by the North Carolina Museum of Art Foundation.

Accompanying the exhibition is a 250-page illustrated catalogue with essays by Alexander Lee Nyerges, organizing curator of the exhibition and director of the Dayton Art Institute, and James R. Guthrie, associate professor of English at Wright State University.

Before Raleigh, In Praise of Nature has been exhibited at the Dayton Art Institute (Oct. 30,1999-Jan. 2, 2000), the Portland Museum of Art in Maine (Jan. 20-March 19, 2000) and the Orlando Museum of Art (June 2-Aug. 11, 2000).

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Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/6/11

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