Ansel Adams: Celebration Of Genius

5 Mar 2008 in Visual Arts & Crafts

City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until 19 April 2008

Buachaille Etive Mor - Glencoe (© - L i n d s a y - R o b e r t s o n - No. L G 6).

ANYONE visiting Edinburgh in the next few weeks with an interest in landscape or photography should not miss the chance to catch this exhibition – or rather, exhibitions. The work on show not only features a lavish collection from the work of the legendary California-born photographer, but also a complementary exhibition of photographs in the footsteps of Adams by Scottish photographer Lindsay Robertson – with the added bonus of huge photographs of iconic Scottish sites that are as breathtaking as anything in the show.

Adams work is so familiar as to be almost a cliché these days, but one of the many merits of this show is that it provides an opportunity to reassess his innovations and his remarkable eye for landscape and light in a context other than the mass reproduction of greeting cards and all the rest. Seeing them in a gallery setting, many at a larger scale than most of us will know, allows a fresh appraisal of his genius.

His most iconic pictures are there in numbers, including many of the famous shots of Yosemite’s towering cliffs and waterfalls, and the other High Sierra locations that made his name. A generous selection of his work in the southwest is also included, as are his photographs of trees, a sampling of his close-up photographs of leaves and flowers, and man-made objects like picket fences (even here he can’t resist evoking a towering mountain), sections of buildings and churches, and even a piece of unusually stained wallpaper.

All of these are in his signature black-and-white (he did also work in colour, but none of that work is represented here), although it is a black-and-white world of infinite gradations of tone and visual texture. He brings his acute perception and technical expertise to bear on all of these subject with equal power and perspicuity. This will be the last chance to see this exhibition before the work returns to the archive at the George Eastman House Collection, and should be seized.

It also marked the first time that a British photographer has been allowed to exhibit alongside Adams. Lindsay Robertson followed in the footsteps of the American giant, using a similarly evocative black-and-white and photographing in locations that parallel Adams own journeying (there is even an ironic echo of the American’s series of photos of crosses in south-western churches, only with a drainpipe as the subject).

Robertson succeeds in placing his own stamp on these works through subtle differences of visual perception and light and shade. Best of all, though, are those fabulous Scottish landscapes from Glencoe, Applecross, Sutherland, Caithness and various other airts, gloriously reproduced alongside the American landscapes. They make a stunning coda to a wonderful exhibition.

© Kenny Mathieson, 2008