Famed landscape photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) was overwhelmingly influential on generations of artists and environmentalists.
His black-and-white photographs of famous landscapes, including Yosemite National Park in California, have been admired by millions.
The Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County, 1899 W. Winchester Road, Libertyville, is featuring the photographer’s work from Nov. 6 through March 27, 2022. The nationally acclaimed exhibition, “Ansel Adams: Early Works,” provides insight into Adams’ evolution as a champion of wilderness and the environment.
Here are some interesting facts about the upcoming exhibition, as well as many lesser-known points about Adams’ life and his life’s work.
The “Ansel Adams: Early Works” exhibition will run Nov. 6 through March 27, 2022, at the Dunn Museum in Libertyville. – Courtesy Lake County Forest Preserves
• The exhibition features more than 40 original small-scale, black-and-white photographs and are lesser-known images. Exhibit designers at the Dunn Museum created interactive components geared toward children and families as part of the exhibition. Another feature is a video that includes footage of the photographer and interviews with his son.
• Adams, a perfectionist, insisted on developing and exposing prints himself. “He was masterful in his manipulation of photos,” said Steve Furnett, exhibitions and collections manager for the Dunn Museum. “He was a genius in building equipment in his darkroom to work much like Photoshop does today.”
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• Born in San Francisco, Adams, an only child, was 4-years-old when San Francisco was struck by the great earthquake of 1906. During an aftershock, he lost his balance and fell face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. The damage was severe and became a permanent feature of Adams’ face. His nose, which caused him problems socially, and his dislike for school prompted home tutoring from his father and aunt before he earned a “legitimizing diploma” and graduated with an approximately eighth-grade education. It was his lonely childhood that sparked a love of nature.
• Adams was also a musician. For much of his early adulthood, he was torn between a career as a concert pianist and one in photography. He famously likened the photographic negative to a musical score and the print to the performance.
• After a long courtship, in 1928, Adams married Virginia Best, an aspiring singer and daughter of H.C. Best, a political cartoonist and landscape painter. The couple had two children, Anne and Michael. Virginia inherited and ran her family’s studio. It has since changed its name to The Ansel Adams Gallery and is still in operation in Yosemite National Park.
• Support for the Dunn Museum exhibition was provided by Mundelein residents Dan and Shirley Mayworm and a grant from the Preservation Foundation, the charitable partner of the Lake County Forest Preserves. Dan participated in a three-week workshop that Adams taught in about 1970. “His key for making fine prints was ‘expose for shadows and develop for the highlights,'” Dan learned from Adams.
• Adams was committed throughout his professional life to the promotion of photography as a fine art. He played a key role in the establishment of the first museum department of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
“Ansel Adams: Early Works” at the Dunn Museum features more than 40 of the renowned photographer’s photos. – Courtesy of Lake County Forest Preserves
• In 1980, Adams was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter. The award was in recognition of Adams’ contribution to photography and the preservation of the great American landscape. In his citation, President Carter stated, “It is through (Adams’) foresight and fortitude that so much of America has been saved for future Americans.”
• The famed artist suffered financial pressures until late in life. To make ends meet, he spent much time as a commercial photographer for clients including the National Park Service; Kodak; IBM; and Life, Fortune and Arizona Highways magazines. In 1969, the Hills Brothers Coffee Company licensed “Winter Morning, Yosemite Valley” for their 3-pound coffee tins. The containers can sell for up to $1,500 when they come up at auction. He said that the commercial work was necessary for practical reasons, but that it was very restraining to his creative work.
• Adams was friends with Georgia O’Keefe. They met in Taos, New Mexico, in 1929 and had a lifelong friendship. They bonded over their mutual appreciation of nature and were both drawn to the landscape of the American southwest.
Steve Furnett, exhibitions and collections manager for the Dunn Museum, opens a crate filled with Ansel Adams photographs that are part of the new exhibition. – Courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserves
• Weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Adams shot a scene of the moon rising above a village. Adams reinterpreted the image, titled “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” over nearly four decades, making over 1,000 unique prints that helped him achieve financial stability.
• This is not the first time the Lake County Forest Preserves has featured Adams’ work. “Classic Images: Photography of Ansel Adams” ran from September 2011 through January 2012 and was a popular exhibition at the Lake County Discovery Museum, formerly located in Wauconda.
“I am excited about giving Lake County residents another opportunity to connect with this beloved artist through a new exhibit featuring images that have rarely been seen,” said Andrew Osborne, superintendent of educational facilities.
A handful of the artist’s most popular photographs from later in his career will also be on display.
• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at kmikuscroke@LCFPD.org. Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.