Beams of sunlight hit Mount Williamson in the Sierra Nevada, and low clouds float above the high peaks.
Massive boulders — heavy, gray pieces from time — sit before the mountains.
Ansel Adams knew how to photograph the big country. The photo taken in Manzanar, Calif., was just one of the famous artist’s studies from out West.
West has come east this year. Forty-eight Adams compositions are on display at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass. The exhibit, titled “Ansel Adams: Masterworks,” will run through June 2.
“The first words that come to mind are iconic and majestic,” said Maria Mingalone, the museum’s director of interpretation. “There’s that kind of celebration of American wilderness and nature in a way that makes it somewhat transcendental. There’s a kind of awe on the grand scale and the exquisite beauty of this wild America that he captured.”
‘Ansel Adams: Masterworks’
WHERE: Berkshire Museum, 39 South St., Pittsfield, Mass.
WHEN: Through June 2
ADMISSION: $13 adults, $6 children. Kids under 3 free
MORE INFO: 413-443-7171, www.berkshiremuseum.org
The exhibit, donated to Turtle Park Exploration Park in Redding, Calif., by a private collector in 2002, has Adams’ fingerprints all over it.
“He considered these some of his best works,” Mingalone said. “Late in life, he was approached to put together a museum set edition of his best pictures, and these photographs are a selection from that larger museum set. So that gives it an interesting angle. The artist himself picked the work, and not an outside curator.”
Devoted to environment
Adams, who was born in 1902 and died in 1984, was in the field for five decades. During his days with focus and film, he became one of America’s best-known photographers and environmentalists. People will see his devotion in his photos of tall trees and steep mountain sides.
“The majority of works on view are these majestic views captured of America’s western landscapes,” Mingalone said.
Not everything is from the great outdoors. A small number of portraits and scenes are also in the mix.
“There’s an interesting portrait of Alfred Stieglitz, and in the background there’s a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, who was Stieglitz’s wife,” Mingalone said.
“The significance of that is Stieglitz and Paul Strand and Edward Weston were all contemporaries of Ansel Adams. They were all in the 1920s and ’30s and ’40s, working to establish photography as an art form with a very distinctive modern vision.”
That approach was different from the artists who had come before. “Their approaches had been a more romantic and kind of a soft-focused, emotional kind of perspective,” Mingalone said. “They were trying to give a feeling like you would find in a painting.”
The Adams pieces looked good 50 years ago. Museum staffers say they look good today.
“I think people like his work,” Mingalone said. “I think in one respect, the pictures are awe-inspiring — that’s timeless. I also think people view them maybe from a nostalgic viewpoint, looking back toward an unspoiled America. There’s a kind of romanticism in that.”
Adams was on the job in rousing times. Camera technology was changing, and hand-held cameras would soon become staples for all serious photographers.
But during the ’20s and ’30s, Mingalone added, Adams was hauling massive equipment up mountains and into fields to capture his favorite moments. “There’s a kind of bravado, I think, and you experience that in the photographs,” she said. “There’s something kind of muscular about that era.”
The Adams exhibit has a companion display. “Nature Magnified: Photographs by Andreas Feininger” will give photo and nature fans a contrast to Ansel’s majestic ambitions.
Feininger excelled at capturing the intricate details of nature; his photos also will be on display through June 2.
“They were contemporaries, one working in the east and one working in the west,” Mingalone said.
“Feininger is most well-known for his urban landscapes, his cityscapes and buildings and architecture. You can see how different their backgrounds and focuses are.”
Feininger’s works include shells, bones and insects, and he makes the small look monumental. “In contrast to Adams,” Mingalone added, “who is looking at these vast landscapes, so it’s like micro and macro. Feininger is looking at the detail and Ansel Adams is looking at the large, vast scale.”
People who are Adams fans, Mingalone believes, will be pleasantly surprised by the Feininger works.