Photographer Ansel Adams captured his life’s passion, pristine American landscapes, in black and white. His children, Ann Adams Helms and Michael Adams, shared colorful memories of their father at Lakeview Museum’s gallery where Ann has unveiled a personal collection of 72 photographs taken by her father. California residents Ann and Michael toured the gallery prior to the exhibit, which opened on November 11 and will continue until March 4.
Visiting central Illinois three years ago with her husband, Peoria native and Woodruff graduate Ken Helms, Ann said she decided then to loan her collection to Lakeview. Adams specifically selected these photographs, which span from 1921 to 1968, to represent his most “classic images.”
“This is the best example of his life’s work. I’m so glad to do it,” Ann said. “It doesn’t seem right that these photos should stay in boxes when they can be giving people a great deal of pleasure.”
As he viewed various photos, Michael reminisced most over his childhood summers spent in Yosemite National Park. A family trip through the Sierra Nevada in 1952 with burros towing their luggage behind them was especially memorable for him. During the excursion, the family passed what would eventually be named Mount Ansel Adams, an 11,760-foot peak located on the southeast boundary of Yosemite National Park. The tribute is especially poignant because every year from the age of 14, Adams visited the park and even met and married his wife and mother of his children, Virginia, there. Adams was also a lifelong member of the Sierra Club and his first published photograph appeared in the environmental organization’s newsletter.
Michael also recalled a trip to Alaska in 1947 when he and his father braved fierce, howling winds and Adams photographed Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake in Denali National Park. “Seeing what Yosemite was like in the ice age was very exciting for him,” Michael said. “He loved Alaska, he made two trips there. He said ‘There is so much in America (to photograph) I don’t need to go anywhere else.’”
Because much of Adams’ photos capture brewing storms and changing weather patterns, clouds provided the perfect, but immediately fleeting, canvas for his chosen landscapes.
“It literally comes out at you…there is a pattern and texture,” Lakeview President Jim Richerson said. “He (started) previsualization and could see what he was trying to do.”
Michael attributed his father’s dedicated work ethic to his childhood passion, the piano. In 1914, at the age of 12, Adams taught himself to play the piano and was determined to become a concert pianist. But after capturing Monolith, the Face of Half Dome at Yosemite in 1927, which cemented his photographic “voice,” Adams dedicated himself to photography.
“He was a fun person but very serious about his photos. But he quit at 5 p.m. everyday,” Michael said. “He was also a poet and wrote beautifully, it was a talent most people never saw, like his piano playing.” a&s