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An Intimate Look at Ansel Adams' Los Angeles

Bowling alleys, burger shacks, auto garages - not the kind of images you conjure up from hearing the name Ansel Adams. His famous photographs of magnificent landscapes suggest a man so entwined with nature, he never bothered with the hustle and bustle of city life. But there he was, in 1941, lugging his camera around Los Angeles County, getting dirty with smog instead of dirt, heading inside bowling alleys, snapping away at the happy bowlers and lurkers enjoying a few drinks. In town on assignment for Fortune magazine to document the aerospace industry, Adams spent many of his hours rambling about the city and capturing the pulse of its inhabitants while seemingly amused by its quirks.

The collection has been in the possession of the Los Angeles Public Library since the early '60s, when Adams donated the 135 contact prints and 217 negatives - which he deemed to be worth about $100. The Library estimated the value to be a bit higher - about $150. Now new prints of these photos, assumed to be worth a lot more, will be on display at drkrm gallery on Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles as part of Pacific Standard Time. The exhibit opens this Saturday and continues until March 17.

Browsing through the collection, among photos of industrial complexes, novelty architecture, and typical L.A. streetscapes, one can't help but notice a couple that appears in many of the photos. They are in fact Cole Weston, son of master photographer Edward Weston and a renowned photographer in his own right, and his wife Dorothy. Taking a break from an aspiring theater career to join in the war time efforts, he worked as a rivetter at the Lockheed plant in Burbank - one of the main subjects of Adams' pictorial for Fortune magazine -. These photos perhaps display a more intimate and sensual side to Adams than what he is known for (though some may argue that the sight of a gush of squirting liquid from the ground is as sensual as it gets).

Cole Weston with his wife Dorothy and their cat

Westons enjoying a drink at Burbank Bowl

Cole and Dorothy Weston at home, view 2

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Perhaps more of a historical record than an artistic statement, the collection nonetheless is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a master photographer, outside of his usual element. Here are more samples from this collection, which can be browed in the LAPL's digital archives:

Gas station at Burbank Lockheed plant

Advertisement for Pat Murphy's Chicken House

Businesses on San Vicente Boulevard

Santa's Circus on Wilshire Boulevard, view 2

Photos from this collection will be on display at drkrm gallery from Feb. 17-Mar.17. More details here.

All photos: Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

About the Author

Yosuke Kitazawa is the Site Editor of KCET Departures.


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