Adam's Genesis 

Another side of photographer Ansel Adams in a new show of rare images at BAM

The trouble with Ansel Adams' photos is overexposure. We think we already know them thoroughly. But a new exhibition, "Ansel Adams from the University of California Collections," opening today at the Berkeley Art Museum for a three-month stay, shows a different side of Adams. With these portraits, urban scenes, and deceptively mundane shots of Central Valley fields, we get to see a legend in the making, as well as the mature work of a commercial photographer taking jobs.

The photos and memorabilia in the show were drawn from the university's Bancroft Library archives by Jack von Euw, curator of the library's pictorial collection -- and are not to be confused with the Adams show currently at SFMOMA. Among the library's holdings are original Adams prints from Fiat Lux: The University of California, a 1967 book of landscapes commissioned by then-university-president Clark Kerr. It's amazing to see the campus and downtown Berkeley depicted in the same grandiose style we associate with his famous views of California wilderness. "We'll be showing Adams the pictorialist," enthuses von Euw. "It's not there in the SFMOMA show. People tend to think of Adams as not a pictorialist, but of course he was.

"This exhibition shows Adams as a working photographer, making a living and learning his craft," asserts von Euw. In addition to the commercial photos, the exhibition gathers together some of Adams' early images of Yosemite -- notably a 1927 portfolio of eighteen "Parmelian" prints -- as well as albums made for the Sierra Club's annual high country excursions. And as if to re-emphasize Adams' sense of humor, there's a 1983 color shot of him by Judy Dater, showing Adams in a gallery posed between the two halves of Dater's famous Imogen Cunningham and Twinka, Yosemite (1974). The gleam in his eye translates to his images.


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