Nature’s greatness in focus

Work by the late American photographer Ansel Adams, one of the field’s foremost 20th-century figures, is on display in Athens for the first time at the Benaki Museum’s Pireos Street annex (138 Pireos). Adams, who passed away in 1984 at the age of 82, was part of a pioneering guild of photographers who fought to establish photography as an independent art form, free from the overshadowing influence of painting. In an effort toward this end, Adams was a co-founder of the photography department at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. During its embryonic period, photography was regarded as an offshoot of painting – the artistic genre that was the undisputed ruler of the visual arts. Adams vigorously challenged this notion by delivering photography of an unprecedented clarity. The Athens exhibition of his work features 72 original prints that are part of a 75-piece portfolio culled as the most representative items from Adams’s enormous body of work by the photographer himself over the last five years of his life. The photographer’s initial intention was to compile 100 different series. Adams ended up managing to print less than 50 series of 25 shots and just six series comprising 75 photographs each. Though he was an advocate of clear-cut photography, as underlined by his role in co-founding Group f/64, a seven-member team of San Franciscan photographers who shared a style characterized by sharply focused and carefully framed images, Adams’s artistic aim was not to offer an accurate depiction of reality. Instead, he managed to instill his work with the idea that it projected his personal views and understanding of the world. To achieve this, in 1948, Adams, along with photographer Fred Archer, formulated the Zone System, a systematic method of precisely defining the relationship between the way a subject is visualized and the final results through optimal film exposure and development. Adams, who, as a curious child collected bugs and explored the nearby beach, was drawn to photography via his love of natural beauty, especially the great mountain ranges of the United States. His celebrated shots of such scenery seem timeless. They give the impression of having either preceded or succeeded man’s existence on Earth. A dedicated environmentalist, Adams sought to depict his country’s natural beauty, which proved pivotal in helping awaken a national conscience for its preservation.

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