Ansel Adams in Our Time: New Views Reflected Politically

Iconic images illuminate current social issues through a contemporary lens.

By Glenda Rice Collins

Bentonville, Ark., USA — With memorable images of vast American landscapes now threatened with climate change and exploitation, Ansel Adams in Our Time continues at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, through January 3, 2021. The changing landscapes are now reflected among works by his notable peers, past and present.

“All Art is Political” –Hank Willis Thomas

“Though Adams’ career spanned much of the twentieth century, this exhibition looks at his work through a contemporary lens,” said Alejo Benedetti, associate curator, contemporary art at Crystal Bridges, “…and how it remains relevant today,” he added during a recent virtual news media preview.

Photography and Politics

“Adams photographed the human impact on a changing world, from border walls and wildfires, to the plains, he says. “These are not conversations that have gone away. Adams was so key in creating the myth around national parks…that still suffer…a difficult (history) with relation to people of color and outdoor spaces.” The search for comfort zones is fraught with complexity, it seems, about who feels comfortable escaping to national parks, and the responsibilities of protecting the land.

The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming 
Ansel Adams (American, 1902–1984) 
1942 
Photograph, gelatin silver print 
2018.2733 
*Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Lane Collection 
*© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust 
*Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Contemporary Comparisons

Since participating in the recent virtual news media preview for the newly-installed Adams exhibition, thoughts of Brazilian Rick Silva’s (b. 1977) video, –within the current Crystal Bridges State of the Art 2020 exhibition, (continuing through November 2, 2020), –soon surfaced in my mind.

Among his most recognizable photographs of national parks, the artistic and political conversations in 2020 both echo and diverge from Adams.

My mental comparisons also include works by Native American photographer Will Wilson (b.1969), included in the current Adams exhibition; and the gifted contemporary, conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas (b.1976). Both artists address themes of personal and cultural identities, collaboration, and questions of balance of power, with highly advanced vision and unique creative techniques.

State of the Art 2020 Video Highlight: Western Fronts and the Environment

Rick SilvaWestern Fronts, 2018, 4K Video. Duration 18:31, Courtesy of Rick Silva. Still images for this view, and banner photo view by Glenda Rice Collins.

According to Silva’s video details: “In 2017, President Donald Trump announced a massive reduction in the size of two previously protected national monuments in Utah,…home to many sacred indigenous sites…to oil, gas and uranium mining activities. This event prompted Silva to create a nature documentary exploring the fragility of the environment.” (See a related article, Crystal Bridges debuts the Momentary, Part I… at https://glendaricecollins.com ** And view a Crystal Bridges Silva Spotlight at this link: https://crystalbridges.org/blog/state-of-the-art-2020-spotlight-rick-silva/).

How the West is One
Will Wilson (Diné (Navajo), born in 1969)
Photograph, inkjet print
*Courtesy of the artist
*Copyright Will Wilson
*Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

One of Will Wilson’s images, How the West is One, begs comparison to a memorable image from Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…, recently shown at Crystal Bridges museum — before and after the March 2020 coronavirus pandemic lockdown, –and is now on exhibit at Cincinnati Art Museum, through November 8, 2020.

Santa Fe-based Will Wilson is a citizen of the Navajo Nation. Wilson is part of the Science and Arts Research Collaborative (SARC) which brings together artists interested in using science and technology in their practice with collaborators from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia Labs as part of the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA), 2012.

Auto Immune Response

According to the website, https://willwilson.photoshelter.com/index, Wilson states, “Since 2005, I have been creating a series of artworks entitled Auto Immune Response, which takes as its subject the quixotic relationship between a post-apocalyptic Diné (Navajo) man and the devastatingly beautiful, but toxic environment he inhabits.  The series is an allegorical investigation of the extraordinarily rapid transformation of Indigenous lifeways, the dis-ease it has caused, and strategies of response that enable cultural survival.”

“ALL ART IS POLITICAL,” proclaims a sign within the exhibition of impressively diverse works by Hank Willis Thomas.

“Where you stand affects what you see,” states Thomas, and often the lines are blurred, as his Crossroads exhibits, literally. The images sharpen in detail, coming into focus when viewed in person from different angles.

Hank Willis Thomas, b.1976, Crossroads, 2012, Chromogenic print and Plexiglass with Lumisty film, Collection of Vicki and Seth Kogan. Image by Glenda Rice Collins

“Your notion of reality is completely shaped by your perspective,” he states, “and what you bring to what you’re looking at.”

Hank Willis Thomas discusses his Crossroads on YouTube, courtesy of JackShainman.com

All Things Being Equal… Influencers: Pop Culture and Advertising

Focusing on pop culture and advertising messages, Thomas also uses lenticular printing, a technique that gives an illusion of depth and motion to explore meaning and perspective; and “retro-reflective” techniques to show hidden layers of meaning, which often influence human perception.

“ADS ARE NEVER REALLY ABOUT THE PRODUCT” –Hank Willis Thomas

(Read more about Hank Willis Thomas in a news feature coming soon to this website).

Marketing, Tourism, Drama, and Disruption

Sections of the Ansel Adams in Our Time exhibition address issues of Marketing the View, Indigenous People, Tourism, and The Changing Landscape.

According to Benedetti, historically, “(Adams) would watch the different dance performances (Indigenous People) would do…and then crop out the tourists who were watching, though he was a tourist himself.”

Iconic Moon and Half Dome

 Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park 
Ansel Adams (American, 1902–1984) 
1960 
Photograph, gelatin silver print 
2018.2681 
*Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Lane Collection 
*© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust 
*Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“The backbone (of the current exhibition) is Adams’ (work),” said Benedetti, “but it is not chronological. It starts with Western Beginnings,” comparing works by Carleton Watkins (1829-1916) and Adams, for example, then moving along to show more contemporary images, such as Laura McPhee’s 2008 Midsummer (Lupine and Fireweed).

Midsummer (Lupine and Fireweed) 
Laura McPhee (American, born in 1958) 
2008 
Photograph, inkjet print 
*Courtesy of the artist 
*© Laura McPhee 
*Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Historical Note

Benedetti explained that the diversity of exhibited photography also includes notable images of Japanese American internment camps, captured with the smuggled-in equipment of the “very accomplished” Japanese American photographer, Tōyō Miyatake, who collaborated with Adams in the 1940’s. Adams, also photographed the internment camps during WWII.

Evolutions: Morell, Disruption, and the “Mundane”

After becoming a photographer and heading west to photograph the iconic views captured by Ansel Easton Adams (1902-1984), Abelardo Morell (b. 1949) began experimenting with ways to disrupt the familiar views of national parks by turning his camera onto the mundane.

Using the basic principles of a camera obscura, Morell’s tent camera photographs emerged. Setting up a tent in view of his desired vista, he then snaps a digital photograph of the projected image, which appears directly on the ground. This “disruption” is perfectly illustrated in two newly-acquired Morell works now on view at Crystal Bridges museum.

Self-Portrait, Monument Valley, Utah 
Ansel Adams (American, 1902–1984) 
1958 
Photograph, gelatin silver print 
2018.2657 
*Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Lane Collection 
*© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust 
*Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Contemporary photographers like the 1979 Vietnamese immigrant, Binh Danh (b. 1977), and the Cuban-born Morell, broach topics of belonging and land claims with reverence for Adams and with a critical eye toward the now.

______________

Per a National Geographic website post, Abelardo Morell on Capturing Dreams, published October 2, 2013:

“Artists, the good ones, tend to re-create the world for us” Abelardo Morell

According to the article, Morell’s love for photography “was founded in his uncle’s house in Cuba, pouring through the pages of photographs in National Geographic magazine”.

“The pictures always felt like they were magically made,” says Morell.

______________

Ansel Adams in Our Time continues on view at Crystal Bridges museum through January 3, 2021. Tickets are available for $12, and admission is free for members, veterans, and youth ages 18 and under. Crystal Bridges general admission is always free, sponsored by Walmart.

For additional details about visiting Crystal Bridges, –and its new satellite museum for contemporary and performance art, The Momentary– during the Covid19 pandemic, visit crystalbridges.org, and themomentary.org.

The Momentary Debuts

To read more about the Momentary, and the Nick Cave: Until installation extravaganza currently featured there (continuing through January 3, 2021), view related articles at https://glendaricecollins.com, as listed below:

**Crystal Bridges debuts The Momentary, Part I: Political Themes Anew, at: https://glendaricecollins.com/2020/02/28/crystal-bridges-debuts-the-momentary-part-i-political-themes-anew/

Crystal Bridges debuts The Momentary, Part II, with Nick Cave: Until, at: https://glendaricecollins.com/2020/09/14/crystal-bridges-debuts-the-momentary-part-ii-with-nick-cave-until/

Ansel Adams in Our Time is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Sponsored at Crystal Bridges by

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ConAgra Brands, Reed and Mary Ann Greenwood, Harriet and Warren Stephens, Stephens Inc., Harrison and Rhonda French Family, Micky and Marybeth Mayfield, Donna and Mack McLarty, Mark McLarty, Catherine and Stephan Roche, Lamar and Shari Steiger, Mark and Diane Simmons, Rebecca Hurst and Jim Smith | Smith Hurst, PLC, Jim and Susan von Gremp, Galen, Debi, and Alice Havner, Jeremy L. Goldstein, Dewitt and Cindy Smith, and Anonymous.

And thanks for visiting this website!

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