"Ansel Adams at 100" exhibit in SF

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Hi Everyone -

I just returned from a week in San Francisco. One major highlight was a visit to the "Ansel Adams at 100" exhibit at the SFMOMA.

First, if you're going (and you should), know that it's a popular show, and it's crowded. The line was literally out the door and down the block. I went on a Saturday, but it might less congested during the week. The crowd also makes it a little more difficult to get into a contemplative mood, so get used to the idea of getting jostled. Be sure to listen to the background chatter from time to time, and you'll pick up snippets of "zone speak". Lots of photographers in the crowd!

Having said all that, it was a great experience. Here's several observations, in no particular order.......

There's some famous showpieces, but many of the prints were unfamiliar to me. Some very early images were represented.

There's some examples of the same print done years apart, and it's instructive to see the changes. The later prints are typically more contrasty. I've heard several critics say they prefer the more ethereal renderings. Maybe I'm a Philistine, but I like the snappier ones.

I couldn't help but notice the wide range of image tone represented. Some are fairly warm, many have an odd green tint, and then there's the more neutral prints. I also noticed at least one that was peeling away from the mount board. We all have bad days, I guess!

He wasn't obsessed with holding details in the shadows if it didn't help the print. Some of the shadows are really black! I had noticed this from reproductions, but there's nothing like looking at the real thing.

It was fun trying to guess at some of his decision making process. We're so used to assuming that all of his photos were perfect, but they're not. Many are masterful compromises. On one, I noticed an out of focus branch in the corner of the print. No big deal, but he had to decide if it mattered or not, and what to do about it. He either didn't notice it when he exposed the negative or didn't want to further manipulate the plane of focus. I can almost hear the internal chatter about the relative importance of the blurry branch, and how it affects the picture, and the decision to go with it. Emphasize the good, minimize the bad. A lesson to us all, to be sure.

I think it was David Vestal that called Adams' landscapes "Wagnerian". Well, maybe they're a little grand, but nowhere will you find any emotional grandstanding. Do a comparison after you've finished the exhibit. Walk downstairs see some work by other artists. The quiet intensity of Adams images really contrasts with the more "in your face" presentations.

Lastly, what a great city. I had a limited amount of time to play, but I really want to go back some day with an arsenal of cameras. I unabashedly took all the obligatory tourist shots, and had a great time. If you saw an East-coast tourist on the Golden Gate hand holding a Pentax 67, that was me!

The exhibit is in SF until the middle of January, and then hits the road for almost two years, visiting Chicago, London, Berlin, Los Angeles, and New York. Go if you can!

-- Kevin Bourque (skygzr@aol.com), December 01, 2001


Not only do you hear "zone speak" but you may also hear "I don't know what I'm talking about speak". I heard one father telling his son that a print (maybe 20x24, maybe larger) was clearly a contact print because it had so much detail.

-- Tom Raymondson (rayson@sbcglobal.net), December 02, 2001.


I have not seen this exhibit yet and I do not think it will be coming my way (Washington, D.C). Anyway, a couple of years ago I had an opportunity to see AA's exhibit here and D.C at the National Prtrait Gallery just before it was closed for renovation. This exhibit inspired me to start working in B&W. I have no doubt, the SFMOMA will convert thousands into B&W. I have several times browsed the book accompanying the exhibit and was lucky to here the person who organized it on AandE's Arts program one Sunday morning. If I had an opportunity I would have attended and realy study the exhibit.


-- Adrian Ng'asi (adrianngasi@yahoo.com), December 03, 2001.

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