Expansive, expressive and very nearly tactile, the big, bold black-and-white prints of master photographers Ansel Adams and Clyde Butcher are so rich with detail, so open, they appear multi-dimensional, inviting the viewer to step through the frame into a scene that’s at once familiar and strange.
The exhibition, opening today at the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, is in two parts: One is Ansel Adams: The Masterworks; the other, Clyde Butcher: America the Beautiful.
As seen through the eyes, and the large-frame cameras, of two of the country’s most creative landscape artists, it truly is.
It might not be the America of sun-dappled green forests, squinty blue skies and amber waves of grain, but it’s equally as beautiful.
“When you’re not dealing with color, there’s a lack of distraction,” points out curator Emily Kapes. “There’s a pure form, of really just thinking about tone and contrast. There’s a simplicity there, but it also gets down to the essence of the image.”
Included are 27 silver gelatin prints by Butcher, who’s still documenting the great outdoors today, and 32 from Adams (1902-1984). They’re in the same (expanded) upstairs gallery, but presented in a unique way.
The two never met, but they shared a common aesthetic.
“They both had similar thoughts about protecting the environment, and preserving our National Parks,” Kapes says. “They were really champions of the environment, and they were ambassadors. So through their efforts, as well as their art, they’ve been able to inspire change.”
Although the exhibit includes two of Adams’ exquisite portraits of human faces (posed against a textural background), the majority of his work here is of the American West – mountains, forests, rippling sand dunes and lonely desert vistas. A few are even abstract, alluring combinations of natural light and shadow.
The Adams prints, all hand-signed by the artist, are on loan from his granddaughter, Virginia Adams Mayhew.
Butcher has also signed his prints, many of which depict the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp, where he’s lived and worked – and worked hard in the environmental protection movement – since the early 1990s.
Butcher has also traveled, as had Adams before him, to just about every photogenic corner of this country.
“They had to endure some pretty extreme conditions to get these shots,” Kapes explains. “And they’re lugging large-format cameras, tripods and other heavy equipment – up hills and mountains, and through the swamp. They had their vision and they were able to execute it in just amazing ways.”
Ansel Adams: The Masterworks and Clyde Butcher: America the Beautiful will remain through July 31.
Clyde Butcher will speak at the James Museum May 5.
For additional information and tickets, click here.