Ansel Adams exhibit combines photography and environmentalism

Ansel Adams exhibit combines photography and environmentalism

February 8, 2019

There are few things in life that I love more than pretty pictures and good music. As an aspiring photographer, I always love to look at the works of famous photographers and see how nice their work is. And how I’ll never be that good. Fellow editor Noah Harper, the arts editor, kept telling me about an exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) that I should check out, the Ansel Adams Gallery, “Ansel Adams in Our Time.”

I decided to go and see for myself. And it was 100 percent worth it.

Adams was an American photographer and environmentalist that grew to fame early in his life. Starting out at The Sierra Club, Adams began his career not only because of his interest in photography but also his love for the environment. As a person who is extremely into sustainability and environmentalism, the depth of his photos really shows the beauty that our world has to offer.

Even though he photographed all across the country, Adams rose to fame with his photographs taken at Yosemite National Park. These photos provided me with a glimpse of nature from a different time, when fossil fuels weren’t burning so heavily and our Earth had time to recuperate and show us its beauty.

When I initially entered the exhibit, I was extremely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people looking to see the photos. I put in my Airpods, looked like a snob, and queued up Amy Beach’s Piano Concerto in C-sharp minor.

The first movement, Allegro moderato, similar to a typical piano sonata, took me through the first two rooms. Surrounded by the story of Adams’ journey towards environmental conservation, I was in my happy place.

Reading each of the small descriptions about the meaning behind all of the photos really made me feel as though I was alongside Adams through his journey, which brought even more intrigue to the exhibit. Coming from such a humble background and overcoming such hardships to land in a profession that he loved really shone through in his work.

One of the things I appreciated most about the exhibit was the incorporation of various mediums, artists and types of photos. Adams gained fame for his photos of Yosemite National Park, but he was so much more than a photographer. Collaborating with different photographers and artists, such as Georgia O’Keeffe and a Native American tribe, Adams celebrates the beauty of nature and people through his personal art medium.

And while most of his photos are in black and white, one of the most impactful photo series in the entire exhibit showcases different sunsets at different points during the year. These photos were taken over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA in a four-photo series.

When I initially saw the photos, I thought they were just pretty sunsets. But upon reading the caption that accompanied the photos and looking closer at them, I saw the Golden Gate Bridge near the bottom of the frame.

What drew me to this series was the deeper meaning behind photographing the Golden Gate Bridge for Adams (not just because I’m a sucker for sunsets).

Growing up in the Bay area, according to a biography on Adams’ website, Adams would take the streetcar from his home near Baker Beach to the waterfront downtown, catch the ferry across the Golden Gate and spend days walking around Marin hills.

His conservation efforts also went into effect near the Golden Gate. The Sierra Club discovered a proposal for the construction of high-rise apartment buildings on the hills and Adams created a photograph with the apartment buildings on the hills. This protest led to the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area that protects these lands.

As I passed the first portion of the exhibit, I entered the second section, and the second movement of the concerto, Scherzo: Vivace (Perpetuum mobile). Even though the piece is a piano concerto and features a pianist, there are hints of various interludes of different soloists in the orchestra.

This was also apparent in the exhibit. While a majority of the work in the exhibit was focused on Adams’ pieces, there were also works of photographers and artists that drew their inspiration from Adams.

Showing the reach of a single photographer on others in the same profession gives me more inspiration and drive as a photographer. Catherine Opie was one of the artists in the exhibit that struck me.

Unlike all the clean, crisp photos that were in the rest of the exhibit, Opie’s landscape photos were all blurry. Even so, I was able to tell that the photo was of one of the most famous waterfalls in Yosemite National Park.

In a video provided by the exhibit, Opie knew that all the great photographs had already been taken, mostly by Adams, so she needed to find a different angle that would give people a new perspective on a scene that they may have already seen. She was looking to see “how photography serves us and our memory.”

One of the last photos I saw, and the last one I personally photographed, was the best photo in the entire exhibit, in my opinion. It showed Adams taking a photo of his shadow. In this self-portrait, the viewer can see Adams in his cowboy hat, presumably being beat down by the sun, holding up his light measurer and his large camera. As a developing photographer, I can tell you that we are extremely lucky to live in an area where we don’t have to carry around extremely heavy photography equipment and instruments to measure light exposure.

This photo, to me, represented the real origin of photography. Going out and photographing the true beauty that this world has to offer.

The Ansel Adams exhibit will be in the MFA until Feb. 24. If you’ve ever wished to see photography at its finest, I urge you to go see the exhibit before it leaves Boston. Free for all Brandeis students.

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