Alfred Stiegletz

Adams & Levy ~ In Their Time

Ansel Adams and his influence on Portland photographer Stu Levy

The American photographer Paul Strand once said, “I think of myself as an explorer who has spent his life on a long voyage of discovery.” Strand, considered one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, influenced many of the great masters of the craft, including Walker Evans, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, each of whom lived a fascinating life of discovery in his own explorations with photography. Adams in particular credits Strand with his decision to give up a promising career as a concert pianist in favor of a life in photography. When the two photographers were introduced by chance in Taos, New Mexico, Strand invited the young Adams to view some of his negatives, as the seasoned photographer had no prints with him to show. For Adams the negatives proved to be a tremendous epiphany. In his autobiography Adams writes, “My understanding of photography was crystalized that afternoon as I realized the great potential of the medium as an expressive art. I returned to San Francisco resolved that the camera, not the piano, would shape my destiny.” In turn, Adams was to influence a generation of young photographers as they embarked on their own photographic journeys. Among them was Portland photographer Stu Levy.  


This story coincides with the Ansel Adams in Our Time exhibition at the Portland Art Museum, which remains open until August 1. See Updating Ansel Adams, Laurel Reed Pavic’s ArtsWatch review of the museum show, here.


When Adams was approaching the end of his long photographic life, Stu Levy was just beginning to find a direction for his own. The two would first cross paths in the summer of 1979, when Levy attended an Ansel Adams Workshop in Yosemite National Park. Levy later became an instructor at the workshops for several years, starting in 1981, three years before Adams died at the age of 82. Although the two men lived in very different times and grew up in very different places, they shared some important common interests that influenced the direction of their lives. Aside from their mutual passion for photography, they both loved music and became accomplished musicians. They also shared a deep love of nature and spent much of their time hiking and exploring the magnificent landscapes they photographed.

Ansel Adams, “The Tetons and the Snake River,” Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942, gelatin silver print. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Lane Collection, © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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Art on the Road: Where Tuff meets Tough

Santa Fe, Part 2: Friderike Heuer takes her camera to Georgia O'Keeffe's high desert and rethinks her attitude toward the American legend

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the second of two visual essays from northern New Mexico, photographer and artist Friderike Heuer visits Georgia O’Keefe’s home territory and revises her thinking about the artist. She also responds to O’Keeffe’s views of the land and sky with  images from her own photographic work. In Portland you can learn more about O’Keeffe at noon Tuesday, April 30, when the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust education presents Carolyn Burke discussing her book Foursome: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, Rebecca Salsbury.

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IT HAS HAPPENED TO ME AGAIN. That’s twice now, in just two years. I’ve had to revise my assessment of an artist once I got to know the history and environment that was essential to her work. The first re-evaluation took place both on an intellectual and an emotional level: where I truly disliked Frida Kahlo before, I came round.

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Gerald’s Tree I,” 1937. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Photograph by Friderike Heuer

And now I have to admit something similar is happening for Georgia O’Keeffe. I was never a fan of the endlessly repeated desert skulls or foreshortened flower paintings, imbued with sexual metaphors or gender-specific markers – references, it turns out, mostly peddled by the men in her life in the beginning of her career and appropriated by many a feminist at some later point. O’Keeffe herself rejected these interpretations just as much as being co-opted by the feminist cause. (For a thorough analysis of her relationship to feminism read Linda M. Grasso: Equal under the Sky: Georgia O’Keeffe & Twentieth-Century Feminism University of New Mexico Press, 2017)

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