Susan Shinn: Ansel Adams exhibit has a favorite for everyone

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 3, 2016

My son Andrew and I have enjoyed many day trips during his springtime school vacations, and his recent Easter break from Catawba was no different.

On this particular day, we set out for Reynolda House in Winston-Salem to see the Ansel Adams exhibit, “Eloquent Light,” which opened March 11.

I took Andrew to an Ansel Adams exhibit once at a small museum on the south end of Myrtle Beach. He was probably 5, maybe a little older, and there was much eye-rolling and sighing that we’d do such a thing on a beach vacation, but he went.

Since then, we’ve both shared an appreciation for Adams’ photography.

The exhibit literature calls Adams the best-known photographer in American history. (Andrew and I think that title belongs to our buddy Wayne Hinshaw, and we made sure to tell him about the exhibit).

Adams lived from 1902 to 1984, and, from a young age, created photographs that became iconic. Some of his best-known prints from the National Parks are here. But there are also early images from his career that were a joy to view as well.

When Adams was 13, his parents realized he had “too active a personality to fit into standard school programs.” So they simply gave him a year’s pass to roam a 1915 exhibit in San Francisco celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal. His images from this exciting exhibit have a dreamlike quality. From a young age, Adams had an eye for photography.

Of course, he also had a lifelong love of nature, photographing the National Parks out West many times over.

We saw one of my favorite pieces, “Moonrise Over Hernandez, New Mexico,” 1941. The tiny southwestern town seems bathed in light as the moon comes up over the mountains. We learned that Adams was driving along and spied the setting sun illuminating the village. He quickly pulled over and got one shot — which turned out to be one of his most famous. I loved how the crosses in the small cemetery seem to glow in the last light of the day.

Adams was the master of dodging and burning — darkroom techniques that are now easily accomplished in Photo Shop. He manipulated the negatives to do his bidding, with spectacular results. In one video clip in the exhibit, Adams himself shows exactly how it’s done.

We saw “Mount Denali and Wonder Lake, Denali National Park, Alaska,” 1948, that captures the stark beauty of that far-off land. After we viewed an image of the Sierra Nevada, Andrew wanted to go into Reynolda House to see Albert Bierstadt’s interpretation on oil. If you’ve never seen Reynolda House, be sure to visit after viewing the exhibit. This grand and spacious “cottage” will celebrate its 100th year in 2017, and landscaping preparations are now under way.

Andrew always tends to buzz through art exhibits faster than I do, and he pronounced Adams’ photograph, “Mount Williamson — Clearing Storm,” 1945, as his favorite.

“I like how you can see the rocks really close up and then see the mountains really far in the distance,” he told me.

You’re sure to find a favorite among these 40 photographs, which have never been viewed together. Reynolda House serves as the exhibit’s only venue. “Eloquent Light” continues at Reynolda House through July 17. For further details, please visit or call 888-663-1149.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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