In Awe of Photographer Ansel Adams

“I frankly believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful—an endless prospect of magic and wonder.” 

– Ansel Adams, Commencement Address at Occidental College, 1961.

I was fortunate to have been born and raised in a number of small western cities and towns. The places I have called home range from the Southwest to the Northwest, with a few spots in between. Depending on each location, I have been shaped by views of cactus-filled deserts, deep canyons, dry riverbeds, evergreen forests, blue lakes, rolling hills, and jagged peaks.

I have visited state and national parks and spent time camping, hiking, fishing, or picnicking out of doors. I grew up with, and have continued to cultivate, a deep appreciation for the magnificent beauty that is the natural world.

Exposed to this spectacular and diverse terrain while both living in and traveling around, the West, it is no wonder I was drawn to photography or that my first “adult” purchase was an SLR camera. No wonder that I am awestruck and inspired by viewing the work of photographer Ansel Adams.

For many years I’ve seen his black and white images in books and pictorial filled magazine articles. Until recently, however, I have not had the opportunity to view such a large collection of his actual photographs.

Currently, the Missoula Art Museum is hosting an exhibit of 130 prints by this legend. Spending a little time with them is such a great opportunity to find out what Ansel Adams’ work is all about. The exhibit is beautiful, educational, and thought-provoking. MAM has done an excellent job of posting plaques of informative text next to each print. Much of it contains direct quotes by this famed photographer, all of which I found invaluable in understanding and interpreting his work.

I spent a good hour in the museum during my last visit to Missoula, looking at and daydreaming about the tone, composition, story, and drama of these photographs. I considered Ansel Adams’ artistic vision and purpose, and the patience that it must have taken (especially in the era in which he worked) to express himself with film. I admired the awareness that makes one capable of understanding the importance of coming upon an unexpected scene, and the experience and preparation that it takes to capture it.

I am in awe, and most likely always will be, at the thoughtful creativity of this master. His passion changed and stretched the fine art of photography. Each print is a documentation of the fleeting quality of perfection, illustrated in a unique moment of light and shadow.

After I spent time viewing each piece, I had a few moments to revisit some of the ones that stuck with me…..but then I needed to get going. Luckily, they will be on display at the MAM for the next five months. I know that I’ll make time to take another slow trip through the exhibit next time I’m in town. It’s a great reason to make a visit to Missoula.

“At one with the power of the American landscape, and renowned for the patient skill and timeless beauty of his work, photographer Ansel Adams has been visionary in his efforts to preserve the country’s wild and scenic areas, both on film and on Earth. Drawn to the beauty of nature’s monuments, he is regarded by environmentalists as a monument himself, and by photographers as a national institution. It is through his foresight and fortitude that so much of America has been saved for future Americans.”

– President Jimmy Carter upon the presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ansel Adams, June 9, 1980.


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Margaret is a writer, photographer, and mom who lives in the rainy, but green, Pacific Northwest. She has been a frequent visitor to Missoula and the surrounding landscape for many years and knows that a part of her lives there as well. Please stop in to find out about her visits and why she looks forward to coming back each time. Hopefully, it will make you want to visit as well. You can find out what else she’s been up to and thinking about, and take a look at more of her photos on her website, This Friendly Village.