Alastair Sooke reviews Ansel Adams at the National Maritime Museum and Cartier Bresson at Somerset House: photographs of the wilderness and city life
In the world of photography, Ansel Adams (1902-84) is practically a god. On the other side of the Atlantic, his famous black-and-white photographs of national parks in the American West are revered. During a career lasting almost seven decades, he secured a reputation as a visual poet of the wilderness as well as a tutelary spirit of American national identity. Some of his pictures, such as The Tetons and the Snake River (1942), seem precision-made for the overused adjective “iconic”.
Why, then, did I find myself resisting the allure of his photography as I wandered through a new exhibition of his work at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich? Let me try to explain.
The exhibition, which originated in Massachusetts, contains more than 100 original photographs demonstrating Adams’s lifelong obsession with water. The pictures are arranged thematically, so that images of, say, rivers, waterfalls, or the Californian coastline are grouped together. We see fierce rapids, streams stippled with sunlight, twisting columns of water in cascading freefall, and great salty spumes as waves explode against rocks.
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