Aspens, Northern New Mexico

Photographer - Ansel Adams

From Portfolio VII, Plate 6, Edition 49/115
Negative Date: 1958
Print Date: 1976
20" x 24"

On a crisp autumn day in the mountains north of Santa Fe, when he was 56 years old, Adams took his classic photograph of a "cool and aloof and rather stately" aspen grove. He avoided including any part of the sky which would have diminished the luminous foliage. Using filters he enhanced the general contrast of the scene. The white tree trunks, reflecting ambient light, stand out against the dark forest background. This 20" x 24" photograph comes from Portfolio VII which was dedicated by Adams to the noted photography collector, David Hunter McAlpin, one of the founding members of the Photography Department at MOMA.

Ansel Adams was born in 1902 in San Francisco and was an only child. When he was 14 his family made a trip to Yosemite where he took his first pictures. He would return there every year for the rest of his life. A year later he worked for a photo-finishing business. His first acknowledged photograph was taken in 1927 when he was 25 years old. It was called Monolith: The Face of Half Dome. He became completely dedicated to photography three years later when he met photographer Paul Strand. And the rest is history.

In the 1950s Adams embarked on a series of murals for private commissions, collectors and exhibitions. He undertook a major project for the American Trust Company (later taken over by Wells Fargo Bank) in San Francisco that consisted of mural sized scenes of California mountains, vineyards and hill country. Adams' photographs were printed in the classic book, The Pageant of History in Northern California, with text by Nancy Newhall, published by the American Trust Company in 1954. To make his mammoth prints Adams would project the image onto a wall to which he had adhered photo paper. Some of his images were printed up to 6.5 x 9.5 feet. The technology to make these prints was so cumbersome that Adams used Moulin Studio facilities in San Francisco.

Ansel Adams died of heart failure aggravated by cancer at the age of 82.

Bryonia Alba

Photographer - Karl Blossfeldt

10 x 8 in Gravure
c. 1920's

Isn't it one of the best things about being here to see how many variations of the human experience there are? Some people are dilettantes, flitting like butterflies from here to there and back again, and others are focused like lasers on one corner of life's miracles. Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) was the latter sort. He was born in Germany and began his journey as a sculptor's apprentice and modeler at the Art Ironworks and Foundry in Magdesprung. He then went on scholarship to the School of the Royal Museum of Arts and Crafts in Berlin to study painting and sculpture until he was 26. After this he traveled with a professor to Italy, Greece and North Africa collecting plant specimens. And here is where his focus honed in on plant photography. For the rest of his life he was a professor in the sculpture of living plants at the College of Arts and Crafts in Berlin. When he was 34, he began to photograph plant forms with a home made camera for use in his teaching curriculum. In 19th century Germany there was a tradition of natural philosophy, and he believed that "the plant must be valued as a totally artistic and architectural structure." He photographed leaves, seed pods, stems, and other plant parts against a neutral white or grey background in northern light under magnification. The photographs could be magnified up to 27 times their actual size, showing extraordinary details within the natural structure of the plants. When he was 63, four years before he died, he published his masterwork, Archetypes of Art. Take a look and when you go out today into the world take a little closer gander at one of the Great Architect's creatures in plant form. Karl Blossfeldt spent his life at it.

Photographer - Harry Callahan

c. 1950. Gelatin silver print 7 5/8 x 9 9/16"

Born in Detroit in 1912, Harry Callahan grew up in the suburb of Royal Oak, where he graduated from the public schools. His parents were farmers who moved to Detroit in order to find work in the auto industry. Callahan attended Michigan State College in East Lansing for three semesters and studied engineering. He left school in 1933 and obtained a job as a shipping clerk with Chrysler Parts Corporation. The same year, Callahan met his future wife, Eleanor Knapp. He considered this one of the two great events of his life; the other being the purchase of his first camera in l938. Two years later he joined the Detroit Photo Guild and a year later attended a workshop there given by Ansel Adams that caused him to trade in his enlarger for an 8x10 view camera. The year after that he spent a week in New York where he met Alfred Steiglitz, one of several photographers who dominated the American scene around that time. This school of photography was formal, precise, pure and contemplative. Callahan extended this influence with his austere and yet playful work over the next 50 years. Look at the photo above of the shore of Lake Michigan and notice the white of the snow, the black of the trees, and the gray in between, how there is just a bare distinction between the water and the sky. The trees are grouped in pairs and make a tapestry with their branches. Eight years after buying that first camera, Callahan was hired to teach photography at the Institute of Design in Chicago. He taught there for the next 15 years, then taught at the Rhode Island School of Design until 1977, when he retired at age 65. Besides landscapes, city streets, and pedestrians, his other favorite subject was his wife, Eleanor. He began a series of portraits of her and their daughter in 1952, when he was 40. Here is a retrospective of his work at the George Eastman House in New York. He lived to receive many awards, including the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton in 1996, when he was 84, finally reaching the end of a fulfilled life at 87 in 1999.