Ansel Adams film screening and discussion to honor 25th anniversary of Sycamore Land Trust


“Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958”  is one of the Ansel Adams gelatin silver prints on display at the IU Art Museum. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom intern Emily Davis:

“I believe the approach of the artist and the approach of the environmentalist are fairly close in that both are, to a rather impressive degree, concerned with the affirmation of life.” — Ansel Adams 

In recognition of the 25th anniversary of Sycamore Land Trust, the Indiana University Art Museum will co-sponsor a film screening and panel discussion in conjunction with their current installation of Ansel Adams photographs.

“Ansel Adams: A Celebration of Art and the Environment” will take place at
2 p.m. March 1 at the Hope School of Fine Arts auditorium (Room FA015) with a reception to follow at the IU Art Museum.

Adams’ dramatic black-and-white photographs might adorn your home in the form of calendars and coffee-table books, but their true legacy is the environmental awareness they raised during the latter half of the 20th century.

Adams was an ardent conservationist who served on the board of directors for the Sierra Club for 37 years and was active in the Wilderness Society. Through his photographs, Adams wished to instill upon viewers the striking serenity of nature as well as the importance of preserving it.

Ansel Adams flowers

“Nature’s Small Wonders” features intimate images from Ansel Adams rather than sweeping vistas.

Sycamore Land Trust is a nonprofit organization that works to protect the nature and agricultural landscape of southern Indiana, a mission that seamlessly aligns with Adams’ work. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that when the trust approached the museum about installing a display honoring their anniversary, Adams was the name that came to mind.

“We are thrilled to partner with the IU Art Museum on a project that celebrates an icon of the conservation movement, and images that bring focus to the simple elegant beauty of nature that we might find in our everyday lives,” said Christian Freitag, executive director of the Sycamore Land Trust.

The film screening will feature “Photography as an Art,” an episode from the 1960 National Educational Television documentary series “The Incisive Art.”

During the panel discussion, Nanette Brewer, IU Art Museum’s curator of works on paper will facilitate the conversation between Freitag; Ric Cradick, a photographer who worked with Adams; and Frank Lewis, a lecturer in arts administration at IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, who will discuss the intersection between art and the environmental movement.

The beauty below our feet

The current exhibition, “Nature’s Small Wonders,” features nine original gelatin silver prints by Adams.

The photographs detail intimate views of flowers, leaves, roots, rocks, and water ripples. The largest image in the installment is a poignant image of the Rocky Mountains’ Quaking Aspen trees, which have been mysteriously dying off in large numbers since 2006.

“When people think of his work, they often think of these epic images of the Grand Tetons and Yosemite. But as William Blake wrote, there can be a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wildflower. Many of Adams’s images draw our attention to the beauty of the everyday. It’s all around us if we pay attention,” Freitag said.

The exhibition does not constitute an exhaustive list of the museum’s Adams photographs. In fact, the museum has 29 original prints that include Adams’ entire first portfolio, “Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras,” as well as several photos from Portfolio 3, “Yosemite Valley.”

“I intentionally chose less familiar images for the installation,” Brewer said. “I think most people are familiar with his photographs of sweeping landscapes and national parks so I wanted to pick some things that would help us to understand that photography can isolate an object. It can make it fresh and anew to us.”

Whether it be blades of grass or the roots of a tree, Adams’ ability to utilize tonal values and perfect exposure can inspire the viewer to stop and think about the beauty that is all around us, even what’s right below our feet.

A master of his craft

Adams first visited Yosemite National Park in 1916, the same year he was given his first camera. It was then that these two great passions for photography and nature were born.

A few years later, Adams took a job with the Sierra Club in Yosemite as a custodian of the club’s lodge. He soon became the group’s official photographer and his  images were used for environmental purposes.

Adams lobbied Congress for Kings Canyon National park, the club’s main issue in the 1930s. He created a limited-edition book, “Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trial,” which influenced President Franklin Roosevelt to embrace the idea of the Kings Canyon park, which was created in 1940.

“Ansel Adams is more than an icon of American art. He’s also a seminal figure of the American environmental movement. His images of our landscape have inspired generations of Americans, even inspiring the creation of entire National Parks by the federal government. It’s been said that we only protect what we love, and we only love what we know. Ansel Adams has helped us know, and as a result, has helped us protect,” Freitag said.

Along with Fred Archer, another notable American photographer, Adams developed the Zone System, a photographic technique for determining optimal film exposure and development that is still widely taught today.

In 1968 Adams was awarded the Conservation Service Award, the Interior Department’s highest civilian honor.

To this day, his work is celebrated by art enthusiasts and conservationists alike.

The installation and collection

“Nature’s Small Wonders” is on display at the IU Art Museum through May 24. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free. To view more of the Ansel Adams collection, contact Nanette Brewer.

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