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Ansel Adams and camera, circa 1950 PHOTO BY J. MALCOLM GREANY Ansel Adams’ “Canyon de Chelly,” 1942 PHOTO COURTESY OF NATIONAL ARCHIVES “I feel that all propaganda expression is transitory. But a rock seems to last some little time!” -ANSEL ADAMS TO EDWARD WESTON,1935 SEE The George Eastman House Alfred Stieglitz Archive at VIEW a WPA photo essay on pecan shellers in San Antonio at would rather live here and work here than in any other American city I have seenand I have seen most of them. There is a vitality and a purpose, and a magnificent landscape.” He told Stieglitz in another letter inferno …. Noise, sweat, stink, more noisethis is the Earth in sight.” Not far from San Francisco “is a land and sky that would be heroic if given the chance.” Stieglitz recognized Adams’ power and hosted a oneman show of his work at An American Place in 1936. But Stieglitz politely declined Adams’ invitation to photograph the West; Stieglitz preferred New York and the landscape around his family summer house at Lake George to the Rockies and Yosemite National Park. Unlike his urban colleagues, Adams opposed development, and it showed in his work. Adams’ photographs of the snowy crests of the Sierra Nevadas made the Flatiron Building, the subject of early photographs by Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, seem a trifle of human handiwork against the wonders of eternity. Adams told Stieglitz in a 1936 letter that he could see both the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge from his window, which threatening to “open up a vast territory in which all the miserable fungus of `development’ will flourish. … I don’t want to photograph themI would rather work on an old fence with moss on it.” As Audrey Goodman notes in Translating Southwestern Landscapes tory of the mythologizing and commercialization of the Southwest early in the 20th century, seizing upon a heroic past was nothing new. It began in the 1880s almost on the heels of the last Indians leaving the territory. “In late nineteenth and early twentieth century America, the Southwest emerged as a modern battleground between dreams of self-transformation and fears of irreversible assimilation.” Put another way, the landscape was the source of some undefined strength that would nourish and rebuild American character in a troubled age, even as it was being assimilated into a culture of greed and exploitation. No matter who dragged a tripod and box camera into the region, each felt it was a place formed by antediluvian gods and forces outside the European imagination. By 1890, millions of stereoscopic views of western landscapes were on sale at tourist spots, and the widespread popularity of the images may have played a part in establishing the national park system in 1906. The West was far more than a mythic landscape; it had become part of the deep, self-constituting American identity. The western photographers were, like architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the inheritors of Emersonian transcendentalism, the optimistic doctrine that nature speaks directly to the human soul through its forms. Adams, Weston, Bourke-White, Strand, Eliot Porter and Laura Gilpinthe anti-pictorial school of photographers who rejected the romantic style of landscape portraiturewere drawn to a region of Jurassic bones and vanished civilizations. It was like Freud’s discovery of the unconscious to find this landscape reaching back to the dawn of life, a world only Darwin had hinted at, but which now offered itself as the raw, wild, ancient basis in which New World consciousness was rooted. Photographers 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG