A group of Ansel Adams prints, commissioned by the Department of the Interior, but never shown, is now on display on the building’s first- and second-floor hallways.
NPR has an article, Forgotten Ansel Adams Murals Brought Back To Light by Brian Naylor, and will post a podcast of a related broadcast on that page as well.
“There was actually a push during the McCarthy era to get this ripped down,” Kirk Deitz, the curator of the Interior Department’s collection says.
From the NPR piece: “The mural was controversial because of the two shirtless men — one black, one white — working side by side, their hands on the same tool handle. In addition, some saw the side panel, showing curved metal and a hammer poised just so, as a little too symbolic of a Soviet hammer and sickle for comfort.
“Adams was paid $22 a day for his work, but the project was shelved with the advent of World War II and forgotten — the prints stored at the National Archives.”
I’ve come to appreciate Adams’ work in ways I hadn’t earlier in my life. The work hasn’t changed, so it must be me. While I have a stronger understanding of the technical achievements he managed, that isn’t the real issue for me.
Nor is it my time in the southwest, in regions near where he created some of his strongest work.
I think that for me, when seeing his great photographic prints in person, not merely in a college bookstore monthly calendar, I am brought to a moment and place he photographed so vividly. I have the sense of the light, time of day, the very air in and around the scene.
Obviously, his technique was masterful in bringing this visceral experience to the viewer. There is the dramatic rendering of the artist, which points out through tonal control, the essential details of the scene which must be looked at. Like an accomplished stage actor, Adams placed the emphasis, by dodging highlights and burning down shadows, on the pivotal plot moment of the action.
As a viewer of this play of light, I have come to feel the performance more strongly over the time I’ve been seeing his prints.
Unfortunately I think, The Adams murals are currently rendered on canvas; they and other art in the Interior Department can be viewed by appointment only.