Ansel Adams at the Phoenix Art Museum

Ansel Adams at the Phoenix Art Museum
The Phoenix Art Museum is presenting “Modern by Nature: Ansel Adams in the 1930s” through Feb. 4.

The show is a focus exhibition drawn entirely from the Ansel Adams Archive at the Center for Creative Photographya research institution and repository for major photographers’ archives co-founded by Adams in 1975, nine years before his death in 1984. Adams committed his archive of more than 2,500 fine prints and other materials to the center that year, making it today the largest Adams collection in the world.

In the period between 1929 and 1942, Adams came to maturity as a visual artist. In particular, the decade of the 1930s was his most prolific, diverse, and experimental time in his 60-year career. This was a period in which European and American modernist styles began to dominate international art photography.

As part of the modern movement, Adams explored close-ups, details, photographic sequences and other innovative presentational methods in quiet and poetic works that were often small in scale. In addition to the grand mountains and clouds of his beloved Yosemite National Park, he also trained his camera upon weathered fences, tree stumps, unassuming meadows, and even modern industrial forms, such as bridges and factories.

A high point of the decade for Adams was a major exhibition of these images in 1936 at Alfred Stieglitzs New York gallery, An American Place.

Many of the approximately 60 photographs in the “Modern by Nature” exhibition will be unfamiliar to those who know Adams for his epic landscape work of the postwar period. In his later years, Adams came to favor this more lofty approach, and accordingly, his photographs grew in size and contrast over time.

The modernist images of this exhibition allow viewers today to understand Adams’s formative period and stylistic evolution and appreciate the range of his genius as a photographer.