Published  21/07/2012

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams

The American photographer Ansel Adams died as long ago as 1984 yet his photographs are timeless. This is partly because they never carry human imagery. Instead, they reflect the majesty of nature, as most Americans would want to recall it. The new exhibition just opened at the Hayward Gallery (through 22 September) will equally draw in British queues. The one most profitable image in the entire history of photography is reputed to be ‘Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico’ (1941). Adams did not live to experience the powerful effect that his work had on the US conservation movement, but he could surmise it. He knew the power of the photograph, and recalled how the earlier photographs of Carlton Watkins ensured that Congress would reserve, in 1864, the Yosemite Valley as a protected area. Today he is commemorated by the Ansel Adams Wilderness area, some 230,000 acres of untarnished landscape, which accrued to the John Muir Wilderness and Yosemite National Park in 1984. Adams, after all, kept alive the Jeffersonian pastoral dream continuing the tradition of the American sublime. But unlike the work of the 19th century American landscapists, which invariably followed the tradition of representative human figures (however diminutive), for Adams the landscape was all.

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