Photo of the artist

Ansel Adams: Masterworks

“Monolith, The Face of Half Dome” by Ansel Adams

“Monolith, The Face of Half Dome” by Ansel Adams

It might be difficult to engineer the perfect opportunity to see Ansel Adams: Masterworks, the Nevada Museum of Art’s latest exhibit. But engineer it you should. It may change you and the way you perceive your world, at least for a few hours, and only the best art shows can do that.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone doesn’t know the name Ansel Adams, but, just in case, he’s one of the most celebrated and influential photographers of the 20th century. He’s probably best known for his black-and-white Yosemite National Park landscapes, like the iconic Half Dome photo. The exhibit is part of a 75-piece collection called “The Museum Set,” that Adams assembled and printed himself in the five years leading up to his death in 1984—the 75 best photographs of a stellar career.

It’ll take a special effort on your part to create the perfect viewing circumstance.

The first thing you must do is arrive at a time when the museum is relatively unpopulated. Maybe at the moment the museum opens (10 a.m. any day but Monday). You want to do this because this is one of those exhibits that you want to get your nose right up on, almost close enough to smudge the glass. In fact, a magnifying glass would come in handy at times. Another reason you want to be there when the museum is relatively unpopulated is because this is an exhibit you want to be able to view from a distance, and you don’t want somebody looking up close when you are trying to look from far away. The perspective you can gain to study the photos’ composition by standing in the separation of the two main galleries is astounding. Finally, you want to come when the museum opens because you don’t want the rushed feeling you may get if you show up in the hour before the museum closes.

OK, that’s the first thing. The second thing you want to bring is a friend who hasn’t seen the exhibit to enhance your depth of understanding. Don’t bring a photography expert who’ll get all bogged down in technique because oddly, Adams’ technical genius isn’t the most important aspect to enjoying this collection (unless, of course, you are a photographer, in which case, ignore that last bit of advice). Bring somebody who can appreciate it on its most elemental levels.

What’s important is the play of lights and darks, the parallel and intersecting lines and arcs, the textures and shades, the commonalities and differences among the 48 prints. It’s the abstraction and the pure appreciation of composition and the aesthetic pleasure exuded from the lines and splotches of contrast. There are moments when the admiration will bubble up inside you, and you’ll laugh out loud—another good reason to go with someone you’re comfortable with.

It’s noteworthy, too, that while most folks might claim more than a passing familiarity with Adams work—he is probably the most famous photographer ever—this exhibition may deepen their understanding of his brilliance. He is far more than just a “Western” landscape photographer. He’s also an Eastern landscape photographer and a portraitist and a humorist—check out the spooky cemetery photo, “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” October 31, 1941 (Halloween, of course).

Even if you can’t engineer the perfect viewing circumstances to see Ansel Adams: Masterworks, you’ll want to take a friend to the museumfor the day, anyway. It’ll change the way you look at your world.