Entertainment & Arts

The Huntington acquires rare Ansel Adams portfolios that had been in storage

Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, 1939 by Ansel Adams

The Huntington has acquired all seven of photographer Ansel Adams’ limited-edition portfolios. Among the images: this surreal 1939 photograph of a cemetery sculpture in Long Beach framed by oil derricks in the distance.

(Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust / The Huntington)

It is hard to think about the intersection of art and the American West without thinking of Ansel Adams. The California photographer practically defined 20th century landscape photography with his elegant black-and-white portraits of the region’s landscape: the geologic face of Yosemite’s Half Dome, the stark beauty of his New Mexican churches, the cotton-y forms of billowing clouds floating over scrub-covered hills.

Over the course of his life, the artist made a series of limited-edition portfolios of some of these and other notable images, and the Huntington has now acquired them all: seven portfolios containing 90 images from throughout his career, representing what he once described as “an excellent cross section of my work.”

The portfolios were a gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne. George, a doctor and amateur photographer, had acquired the portfolios directly from Adams after becoming acquainted with the artist via one of his photography workshops in Yosemite.

The most incredible part, reports Huntington photography curator Jennifer Watts, is that the portfolios were kept in storage for decades. "[A]s a result,” she writes, in a blog post about the acquisition, “the photographs look fresh and new.”


Particularly striking are some of the Los Angeles area images that make their way into the collection: such as an image of a cemetery angel surrounded by oil derricks in Long Beach — a surreal image of industry and beauty.

The museum has also acquired 420 works by the 20th century Pasadena photographer William R. Current. Current is well-known for his images of Pueblo dwellings (he is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art) and for documenting the architecture of the Arts and Crafts architects Greene and Greene (who designed the Gamble House in Pasadena).

Watts has more about the acquisitions, along with plenty of images, posted at Verso, the Huntington’s blog. I can’t wait to see these incredible works on display!

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.


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