Same Sight, Different Views: Revisiting Ansel Adams’s Landscapes
By Magnolia Molcan
May 15, 2023
Ansel Adams’s iconic images have become synonymous with the American West. In Ansel Adams in Our Time, Adams’s photographs are shown in conversation with those of the 19th-century photographers who inspired him and contemporary photographers examining the western landscape anew. Take a closer look at some of Adams’s most striking landscapes and how contemporary artists have reenvisioned the same sights.
Inspiration Point, Yosemite National Park
Adams called this image of Yosemite Valley one of his “Mona Lisas” due to its immense popularity. This view, taken from Inspiration Point (or Tunnel View), has become one of Yosemite’s most photographed, with countless tourists taking photos from the same spot.
In his photographs, Arno Rafael Minkkinen challenges the images of pristine, unpopulated wilderness created by predecessors like Adams and 19th-century photographer Carleton Watkins. In Minkkinen’s image from Inspiration Point, he inserts his own body into the landscape. His outstretched arms mirror the curve of the valley.
Snake River, Grand Teton National Park
Adams was known for crisp, clear photography that captured vivid detail and texture. Through his adapted camera obscura, Abelardo Morell captures similarly vivid details in an entirely new way. By reflecting the landscape onto the ground, Morell transforms it, remaking the view through the textures of the pine needles, grass, and sand under his feet.
Golden Gate, San Francisco Bay
“One beautiful storm-clearing morning, I looked out the window of our San Francisco home and saw magnificent clouds rolling from the north over the Golden Gate. I grabbed the 8-by-10 equipment and drove to the end of 32nd Avenue, at the edge of Sea Cliff,” Adams recalled of this image, taken one year before construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Sixty-five years later, in 1997, Richard Misrach felt a similar calling, setting up his own 8-by-10-inch camera on the porch of his Berkeley Hills home. He spent the next three years photographing the Golden Gate Bridge from the same spot, capturing hundreds of views of the span against the ever-changing sky.
Pacific Coast, California
In 1940, Ansel Adams shot the series Surf Sequence from the cliffs off Highway One in Northern California. Lucas Foglia’s Beach Restoration after El Niño Waves (2016) consciously echoes Adams’s work. Foglia’s photographs document how humans use technology in an effort to combat climate change. Here, excavators and trucks are employed to restore a Pacific coast beach in an ever-losing battle.
Sierra Nevada, California
Trevor Paglen’s image of the Sierra Nevada mountains was taken seven decades after Adams photographed the snowcapped range. While other contemporary photographers capture wilderness areas overrun by tourists, Paglen exposes the presence of government surveillance over supposedly empty areas of the American West. Here, using a telephoto lens and a long exposure, he reveals the trail of a secret government satellite, just visible at the upper left of the frame.
Text by Magnolia Molcan, web managing editor.