Ansel Adams’ Son Explores His Father’s Photography Legacy

Dec 28, 2015

Ansel Adams’ dramatic black-and-white western landscapes made him a household name, and an exhibit at The Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia, looks at how that came to be.

“Ansel Adams: Before and After” looks Adams' work in the context of 20th century photography by placing his photographs alongside those of his forebears, his contemporaries and those whose later work he influenced.

WABE got the chance to look at Adams’ work through the eyes of someone who was there when much of it was created: the photographer's son, Michael Adams.

“Growing up with Ansel was an experience,” Michael Adams said. “He didn’t do things like most of my contemporaries’ fathers, like play ball or go to games. But he did take me on trips. And I had the experience of seeing most of the West, in many ways, through his eyes.”

That vision was largely influenced by the photographer’s darkroom manipulations, where Ansel Adams played with contrast to create his famous images that usually only bore cursory resemblance to what he’d captured in the field.

“He experienced something, and then he created the photograph,” said Michael Adams, “and he said out front: 'It’s not what you see, it’s what I want you to see.'”

He adds that his father’s work originated not in the places he represented, but in his own mind.

In this way, Ansel Adams’ images of places like Sequoia and Kings national parks went on to strongly influence the conservation movement. He was also among those photographers who helped to launch photography as an art form worthy of respect.

The exhibit “Ansel Adams: Before and After” includes more than 20 of Adams’ photographs, as well as those by other photographers with work related to his considerable legacy. It is at the Booth Western Art Museum through March 20.