Author: Natania Reed
For a short time, drkrm, located in downtown Los Angeles, is hosting an exhibition of Ansel Adams photographs taken during the late 1930s and 1940s. The art gallery, which focuses primarily on black and white photography, is collaborating with Edgar Varela Fine Arts and the Los Angeles Public Library to display these rare photographs for the first time in public. The exhibition opened on Feb. 18 and will be on display until March 31.
Adams, best known for his landscape images of the American West and romanticized vision of nature, is widely considered to be one of the greatest photographic minds of the last century. He famously documented Yosemite National Park and helped expand the National Park system through both his photography and his participation in the Sierra Club and other environmental advocacy.
The tiny two-room gallery in L.A.’s bustling urban center is not the first arena that would come to mind to display Adams’ distinctly larger than life nature photographs. However, the collection currently featured at drkrm portrays a different side of Adams, focusing not on landscapes or the natural world, but on prewar Los Angeles.
The collection was initially a Fortune magazine assignment from 1940. The magazine hired Adams as a photojournalist for an article about the aviation industry in L.A. and the city’s community. Though Adams took over 200 photos for the assignment, very few were used in Fortune’s article and as a result, these images went unseen for decades. In 1960, Adams gave the photos to the Los Angeles Public Library, where they were archived.
Though the exhibition only features 60 photographs in total, the images are powerful and capture an entirely different era of Los Angeles. Some familiar scenes are present as well. For example, “Sixth Street and Broadway, Los Angeles,” (1940) depicts a thick crowd of people in an intersection in downtown Los Angeles, which still is a heavily populated region of the downtown center. Though the architecture continues to be familiar, the intersection’s busy shops and stores have long been closed down. Also serving as a glimpse into the past is Adams’ “Ocean Park Pier, Santa Monica” (1940). This photograph depicts a familiar setting for Angelenos and tourists alike, the famous Santa Monica Pier. The black and white image depicts four people from behind, looking out onto the ocean from the top of the pier. The pier depicted in the image, however, is completely different than the one today – the throngs of people populating today’s pier are absent, as is the amusement park and arcade. In contrast, the pier appears almost empty in the photograph, presenting the now-famous landmark as an unfamiliar scene.
Adams also recorded scenes from communities that were probably not well known even in the thirties, unlike his well-known portraits of downtown L.A. or major landmarks in Yosemite. About a quarter of the images in the collection reveal one particular trailer park in Santa Monica. “Olympic Trailer Court, Santa Monica” (1940) is just one in the multitude of depictions of different residents of this park going about their day-to-day lives. It shows a middle-aged man playing with his dog on the porch of a trailer while his wife sits knitting in a chair beside them. Additionally, there are many images in the exhibition taken at an aircraft plant in Burbank, CA. The employees of the plant, all men, are captured outside during their breaks or while eating lunch at local food stands. The images encapsulate the monotony of day-to-day life for many of these plant workers.
The exhibition of Ansel Adams’ work at drkrm allows a glimpse into a different time in Los Angeles, using nostalgic portraits of city life to explore architecture and communities of people in a long-gone era. The gallery is located at 727 S. Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 12-6 p.m. and Sunday from 12- 4 p.m.
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