Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is widely considered to be America’s greatest landscape photographer. He is best known for his timeless black and white images of Yosemite National Park and other natural wonders of the American West.
Few are aware that in 1948 Adams traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park—his first and only recorded visit to Tennessee—in order take photographs as part of a Guggenheim Fellowship on America’s national parks and monuments. The resulting 47 images represent an extensive and important artistic record of the Smokies approximately 14 years after the park was established.
Adams describes his visit during the fall of 1948 in two letters. The first, addressed to itinerary to Nancy, his wife, and Beaumont Newhall, his friend and influential photography historian:
September 30th, 1948
Dear Nancy and Beaumont:
Plans all set:
Leave here tomorrow for S.F.
Leave S.F. on the City of SF for Chicago; then to Chattanooga, thence to the Great Smokies N.P.
Arrive Washington October 17th
Arrive New York 19th or 20th at latest…
Adams’ second letter suggests he discovered the Smokies to be a difficult subject:
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, October 9th, 1948
Your very good letter of Sept. 30th just arrived here in Gatlinburg. The Smokys are OK in their way, but they are going to be devilish hard to photograph…
Adams’ Four Published Smoky Mountain Images
Perhaps because Adams found the Smokies “devilish hard to photograph,” he only published four images from his visit. Prints of these are exceedingly rare. In 2009, the Knoxville Museum of Art was fortunate to acquire Dawn, Autumn Mist, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is seeking to acquire prints of the other three published images.
Ansel Adams, Dawn, Autumn Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, 1948, Gelatin silverprint on paper, Knoxville Museum of Art, 19 ¼ x 14 ¼ inches, Gift of Patricia and Alan Rutenberg and Mary Ellen and Steve Brewington, 2009
Ansel Adams’ Complete Smoky Mountain Portfolio
In 2010, the Knoxville Museum of Art applied for and was granted permission to include on its Higher Ground educational site the complete set of 47 images Ansel Adams created during his 1948 visit to the Smoky Mountains. This is the first time the complete set of images has ever been made available to the public.
Courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, Arizona. All photographs © 2009 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.
Media support for this exhibition is provided by: