A ponytailed Baylor art major squinted again at the Ansel Adams photograph and turned to ask, “But how did he get those beautiful silvery tones?”
Rebecca Senf, guest lecturer at Baylor’s Martin Museum of Art in Waco, smiled and began an explanation of the great photographer’s goal of “an ironclad negative” to the group of undergraduate students assembled in the gallery.
The 29 original, signed, gelatin silver black-and-white prints on display through Nov. 14 represent quite a coup for Baylor.
“As far as I know, this is a first for the Central Texas area,” said Karin Gilliam, director of the university’s Martin Museum. “This exhibition was provided by the Bank of America
through their ‘Art in our Communities’ program, and we are thrilled to have it.”
More than 1,500 visitors have seen the exhibit since it opened Sept. 10, and that’s exceptional, Gilliam said. “This is a teaching museum, a teaching tool for our students.”
On a recent weekday afternoon, the adjacent space was full of students with spirit levels, extension cords and ladders hanging artwork and adjusting lights for an upcoming show.
The mounted and framed photographs include many of the American master’s iconic images. Subject matter reflects Adams’ favored locations: natural scenes from the Southwestern U.S. “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” is represented by a later print, in which the photographer sought deeper values in the evening sky, and the epic photographs he made in Yosemite, his home for many years, continue to resonate with viewers.
“We looked for the foremost authority on Ansel Adams,” Gilliam said, referring to Senf’s group sessions and lecture with Baylor students. Senf’s employer, the Phoenix Art Museum, is a “dedicated gallery” of the Center For Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. The CCP was the brain-child of Adams, who laid down the ground-rules, dedicated his archives and used his considerable influence to get other major photographers to contribute their work.
Though some critics have questioned Adams’ “roots and rock” emphasis, his grand landscapes, close-up details of nature and the many photographs that exclude any trace of humankind, Carlton Young, 21, had a different take. “I think his pictures were relevant when he made them, they’re relevant today and they’ll really be meaningful in the future when some of these places (Adams photographed) go away.”
People of all ages enter the gallery, sign the visitors book and slowly make their way through the exhibit. Smiling, Gilliam reflects on the lasting appeal of Adams’ work: “We’re very grateful and blessed that Bank of America offered this to us.”