Ansel Adams at the Peabody Essex Museum

By Ramona Flightner/ @ramonaflightner

The Peabody Essex Museum

Recently I made a short journey up the North Shore to Salem to view an exhibit by Ansel Adams at the Peabody Essex Museum. It is called: Ansel Adams: At Waters Edge. I had meant to go to the museum numerous times in the past, but I never managed to attend a special exhibit until now. I have enjoyed the photography of Adams for years, but especially since I saw a special by PBS: “American Experience” about him ten years ago. (You can buy it at amazon or rent it on sites like Netflix.)

What really drew me in, though, was that one of his photographs of the Tetons with the Snake River meandering in the foreground was used for promotional purposes. I saw it constantly in the Boston Globe and knew I needed to go to this exhibit. As a Montanan living in Boston, it really only takes beautiful mountains to entice me.

Promotional Photo at Ansel Adams Exhibit- I asked and received permission to take this photo

The Peabody Essex Museum is a gorgeous museum with a large central courtyard that is like a covered atrium with loads of natural light. Our exhibit was on the third floor and it was clearly the star attraction.  Here is the link for the exhibit. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you can see some of the photos.

The central courtyard at the PEM

The exhibit was beautifully done. When we entered there were three photographs, one of which was of a wave crashing on a rock at Carmel Beach in California. I felt like I could feel the spray of the water as it bashed against the rock. As my friend and I walked through the exhibit, all we kept saying, was “wow, wow, wow.” I remarked once how I couldn’t imagine having such creative genius and she reminded me that creative genius comes in all forms.

I enjoyed reading about his creative process. I do not know a lot about photography, but he seems to have revolutionized photography, especially in the United States.  He used new techniques in developing his photos so that all the varying shades of grey were highlighted. This meant that every single copy of the photo had to be made by him by hand. For one photo he took, he waited two days for the perfect light. He also said that he wouldn’t put a description on the back of the card to describe what his photos were about. Either people got his work or not.

One of the aspects I enjoyed most about the exhibit was that some of his photos were deceptively simple and then, the more I studied them, the more I noticed layers of complexity to them. One of my absolute favorites was from Yosemite, called Mirror Lake.  In it, the trees and mountain are such perfect reflections that if you weren’t careful, you could almost hang the photo upside-down. However, there were two photos from Mirror Lake and the one I loved I can’t find on the internet to link to. I will link to his other Mirror Lake photo as it is also brilliant.

Another was of a creek, called “Fern Springs, Dusk.” As I looked at it, I could hear the water falling over the rocks and was instantly soothed. Here is a link to that image:

I have no idea how one could take photos like he did, but I feel so privileged to have seen them.  If you have a chance to go to this exhibit, it is well worth the short journey to Salem. Has anyone else visited an Ansel Adams exhibit? Any thoughts on his work?

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