Exhibition Review: Ansel Adams – Photography from the Mountains to the Sea

I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the official opening of the new “Ansel Adams – Photography from the Mountains to the Sea” exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, which was held on the evening of the 8th July.

Having never seen an Ansel Adams print in person – until last night, I’d only experienced Adams work through books and online – I was very excited at the prospect of seeing his original prints, and with over seventy prints on show there was plenty to enjoy.

The exhibition had been put on through the help of a number of organisations, including the Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, Massachusetts, USA), David H. Arrington and the Centre for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona and also through the USA Bicentennial Gift Fund. There were a whole host of other sponsors and partners, which we were privy to for what felt like hours! But I do appreciate that putting on an event and exhibition such as this takes money, time, people and a lot of effort so thank you to all named and unnamed sponsors and organisers for bringing this exhibition to Sydney!

The theme was essentially water, and being held in a maritime museum, it was a very apt theme. The exhibition was divided into four galleries, namely Pictorial vs. Modern, Time and Motion, Focus and the f/64 School and finally Equivalents, and the photographs were dated back as far as 1918 and as late as 1969.

I was mostly surprised by the number of smaller prints on show. I had half expected huge enlargements throughout the exhibition, however many were small, intimate images that invited you to move in close to study the detail captured. I had also expected more of the grand, epic landscapes Adams was famous for, although those were represented by The Tetons and the Snake River, Waves – Dillon Beach and Waterfall – Northern Cascades among others, but most I found were beautiful, detail photographs concentrating on a small element of a scene or images of movement showing the power and strength of water and waves. It was a side of Adams work that I knew little about and was quite an eye-opener for me.

As a photographer, it was a little disappointing that information on each image wasn’t made available, even in the accompanying booklet. I would have been interested to find out if the image was a contact print or enlargement, the original format of the negative and so on. But this didn’t take anything from the quality of work on display and if nothing else, enabled me to concentrate on the images rather than any technical details.

I can’t recommend this exhibition enough to anyone who appreciates incredible photography. You’ve got plenty of time – it’s on until the 8th December.  I shall be going back again and again and again.