Ansel Adams: Photographs
Ansel Adams is best known for a series of photographs he produced of America's natural heritage known collectively as the National Park Service Photographs, representative examples of which are reproduced here. This assignment was especially commissioned in 1941 by Harold Ickes of the United States Department of the Interior and the aim was to record for posterity areas that had been designated national parks, as well as portraying the Native American homelands and other monuments and areas of reclamation of the great American wilderness. These would also be used as photo-murals to decorate the walls of the Department of the Interior. Ickes was already familiar with Ansel's work having seen detailed studies of leaves and ferns which featured in an exhibition of 1936. Indeed, he liked them so much that he hung one in his own office. He eventually made Ansel's acquaintance when the photographer came to lobby Congress, seeking to have Kings River Canyon, California designated a national park.
Originally, only painted murals by established artists were thought suitable for inclusion in the Mural Project, as it came to be known, as photography had yet to be considered worthy of being regarded as an art form, rather than a way of recording or documenting reality; but Ickes was convinced that Ansel's work was artistically valid and would make its own inimitable contribution to the scheme.
The collection of works commissioned in 1941 was intermixed with earlier studies of the Kings Canyon area dating back to 1936, and these and the new prints were offered as part of the commission. The photographs are a pictorial testament to the majesty of the American West, captured with technical accuracy and imbued with sheer inventiveness and a deep empathy for the regions which Ansel sought to protect and maintain intact. They range from rivers and canyons, close-ups of plant life, Native American villages and their inhabitants, the mysterious and enigmatic underworld of the Carlsbad Caverns and the geysers and twisted forms of Yellowstone National Park. Together, they offer a visual feast and a source of delight and nourishment for the spirit.