Discover Ansel Adams’ 226 Photos of U.S. National Parks (and Another Side of the Legendary Photographer)

Ansel Adams

Amer­i­cans ven­er­ate the work of Ansel Adams but tend to get over­ex­posed to the usu­al Adams prints in den­tists’ wait­ing rooms, cor­po­rate offices, and oth­er anes­thet­ic spaces. At least that’s been my expe­ri­ence. It’s easy to for­get how much Adams’ work vital­ly defined the 20th cen­tu­ry per­cep­tion of the Amer­i­can West, as much as Fred­er­ic Rem­ing­ton’s defined that of the 19th.

Wednes­day, in hon­or of what would have been Adams 111th birth­day, we post­ed a fas­ci­nat­ing 1958 doc­u­men­tary to rein­tro­duce you to the Adams you may have thought you knew—“musician, moun­taineer, writer, teacher, pho­tog­ra­ph­er.” In the midst of redis­cov­er­ing Adams our­selves, we stum­bled upon an incred­i­ble trove of images at the Nation­al Archives—226, to be exact—taken at the behest of the Nation­al Park Ser­vice in 1941.

The pur­pose was to cre­ate a pho­to mur­al for the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or Build­ing in Wash­ing­ton, DC with the theme “nature as exem­pli­fied and pro­tect­ed in the U.S. Nation­al Parks.” While WWII put a stop to the project, the pho­to archive Adams left behind still makes an excel­lent case for the fed­er­al preser­va­tion of these land­scapes (or what’s left of them today). This is the kind of pro­pa­gan­da I can get behind.

The image above is 79-AAB‑1 in the archive, or more pro­saical­ly, “Boul­der Dam, 1941.” Adams pho­tographed grand land- and desertscapes all over the West and South­west, includ­ing the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Death Val­ley, Yel­low­stone, Yosemite, Carls­bad Cav­erns, and land belong­ing to Nava­jo and Pueblo Indians—such as image #79-AAA‑6 (below), or “Church, Aco­ma Pueblo,” tak­en in Aco­ma Pueblo, New Mex­i­co.

Ansel Adams2

Like most of Adams’ work, these images are mon­u­men­tal­ly breath­tak­ing in all their high-con­trast vast­ness. Most of them are signed or cap­tioned by Adams. You can browse the archives, view all of the pho­tos, and order prints through the Nation­al Archives web­site.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Extreme Pho­tog­ra­phy: Shoot­ing Big Climbs at Yosemite

Alfred Stieglitz: The Elo­quent Eye, a Reveal­ing Look at “The Father of Mod­ern Pho­tog­ra­phy”

Watch as Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Steve McCur­ry Shoots the Very Last Roll of Kodachrome

Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Michael Cooke says:

    The “pro­saical­ly named” Boul­der Dam has had a check­ered past. The first site pro­posed was at Boul­der Canyon, hence the name was the Boul­der Dam project. But its loca­tion was then moved 10 miles down­stream to increase capac­i­ty. On its ded­i­ca­tion day in 1931, it was referred to by Pres­i­dent Hoover’s Sec­re­tary of the Inte­ri­or as the Hoover Dam. After the elec­tion in 1932, Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt’s Sec­re­tary of the Inte­ri­or object­ed and so in 1933 it was renamed the Boul­der Dam. Final­ly in 1947, con­gress and Pres­i­dent Tru­man named it the Hoover Dam.

  • Brad Burns says:

    You won’t find any of Ansel’s “Mona Lisas“in these images; the ones we know so well from his exhi­bi­tions and books. Ansel made a liv­ing as a com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­ph­er and this project was a com­mer­cial assign­ment. As some­one who worked for him, he often told us stu­dents and assis­tants that his com­mer­cial assign­ments taught him how to solve many pho­to­graph­ic prob­lems that lat­er pre­pared him to make some of his great images. He called his com­mer­cial work “Exter­nal Assign­ments” and his per­son­al fine art pho­tog­ra­phy his “Inter­nal Assign­ments.”

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.