Ansel Adams – Art from his Secret Closet – on Exhibit

The Museum of the Albemarle, Elizabeth City, NC, currently exhibits “Ansel Adams in the East: Cruising the Inland Waterway”.

The exhibit shows a series of tiny 5 inch square photo proofs by Ansel Adams that he never intended anyone to see. The small museum is not far from the inland waterway where Adams shot the pictures in 1940.

They are taken of a landscape that lacks the majesty of his photographic series of the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite National Park. The works were photographed with a hand-held camera. It comes as no surprise that the Trust which controls the use of Adam’s work objects to the exhibit, disputing photo proofs as art.

  1. “They are basically snapshots, not works he ever would have shown in a museum” according William Turnage, one of three Adams’ trustees. “I think it’s unethical in terms of museum ethics and behavior. It’s something that never would be done at MoMA or the Art Institute of Chicago.”
  2. Adams’ art included both the making of the negative and the interpretation of the negative into a print.
    Photo proofs are half-finished artworks, not the final thing. Each proof could be night and day from what Ansel would have interpreted.”

A quirk of inheritance law mixed with some art world connections, and the proofs were nonetheless exhibited, on the following grounds:

  1. “Adams’ prints are perfection,” exhibit curator Stephen Jareckie said. “But these proofs have a certain vitality that you don’t find in a finished print. It gives them an educational point of view and shows the public what Adams’ work is like at that stage — a work in progress.”
  2. Jareckie found the proofs in the estate of McAlpin’s second wife. McAlpin and Adams collaborated on founding the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where McAlpin was a trustee.
  3. The proofs are part of the historical record, documenting Adams’ life, his travels and friendships.

This unique Ansel Adam exhibit of 50 photo proofs runs through Dec. 2. Seven attributed to McAlpin.

If you are interested in learning about the best photographic artworks of Ansel Adam, visit the website of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s feature on this great photographic artist. A click on the image launches your own interactive show.


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