Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius (4 stars)

Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius

City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until Sat 19 Apr


The natural ecological bent with which Ansel Adams’ work is infused means that a show like this could never be more timely, and many might read a somewhat sombre note in his otherwise celebratory landscapes. There are no people in them, and an impression of loneliness is evoked amidst their epic scale.

That said, as this is the first Scottish retrospective and largest ever in the UK of work by the late Californian photography pioneer, there are people in these works. Friends and characters Adams stumbled across are segregated into a small corner of portraiture, but none are photographed with quite the same attention to detail with which Adams tells the story of the valleys and hills of Yosemite, the Californian Sierra Nevada mountains and the flow of the Pacific ocean at Point Sur.

Only one portrait rings utterly true: a print of the photographer Edward Weston (a fellow devotee of ‘straight photography’) which forms part of Adams’ ‘Group f/64’, sitting amidst the root-mass of a large tree. The setting almost tells us more about the photographer than his subject. There are detail images of grasses and bubbling water too, so atypical of the common perception that Adams’ work was all grand expanses. He photographed churches in New Mexico, weather-beaten picket fences and rusted steel anchors, yet these add flavour to his repertoire rather than define it. The prints which do so, however, are all included.

Crisp, snow-frosted shots of Yosemite Valley remain definitive of their medium, and the iconic ‘The Face of Half Dome’ and ‘Winter Storm’ are stunning when seen mounted and hung. ‘Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico’ is perhaps Adams’ definitive work, containing all of the elements he photographed regularly: dusty plains, far-off mountain ranges, a crisp moon high in the sky, and the graves of men almost lost in the foreground, a very small part of nature.

Next to these, the work of Scots landscape photographer Lindsay Robertson seems an anomaly. Taken at Glencoe and on the same American plains where Adams worked, they pay skilled homage to Robertson’s forebear. Yet, the sheer size of some of these sets up an unlikely competition with arguably the work of the greatest landscape photographer who ever lived.

Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius

  • 4 stars

An exhibition of Adams' landscapes and other images of nature. This is the most comprehensive collection of his work ever exhibited in the UK, with 150 photographs spanning the 1920s to the 1960s.

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