ABOUT THE PROJECT
In 1940, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes purchased a photograph from Ansel Adams for his office. At the time, the DOI wasn't decorating the building with photographic murals, but they did have many artists come in and paint murals on the walls. This was known as the "Mural Project". Enamored with Adams' work, Ickes agreed to include his photos as part of the Mural Project and hired him as a Contract Photographer. Adams set out to photograph America's Public lands on what was to be a multi-year endeavor.
The Department of the Interior paid him 22 dollars a day for expenses and Adams was allowed to maintain ownership of the original negatives. Adams started photographing the parks in 1941, but on Dec 7th 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii caused all non-war funds to be suspended and Adams had to abandon the project.
Still, he did capture about 220 amazing images, 171 or so were of America's National Parks; Yosemite, Yellowstone, Kings Canyon, Grand Canyon, etc. The original prints were delivered , but the location of the original negatives have not been located since Adams passed away
2020 marks the 79th anniversary of Adams presentation of his works to Ickes and the Department of the interior.
79 years also just happens to be the lifespan of an average American.
I wonder how much things have changed in the lifetime since Ansel Adams created that visual time-capsule?
There's only one way to find out.. as a former Official Photographer for the National Parks myself, I feel like the best way to share what I learn about the changes to our parks is to re-photograph Adam's 171 shot National Park portfolio , shot-for-shot from the very same location he used, and on the same day of the year he did. I'll use the same technology, too; a Deardorff 8x10 film camera to capture the images and a darkroom to hand-process and print every photo personally.
Hand-printed, silver-gelatin prints of the final images will be donated to the National Park Service for an exhibit and copies will be also given to the National Archives as a permanent record of the state of our National Parks in this lifetime.
We are excited to share what we have learned from the experience and comparing the two bodies of work, though the "before' shots will be from the electronic copies at the National Archives which frankly don't do Adam's work justice. The original negatives are lost to history, so these images will merely serve as an example of the condition of the parks in 1941 rather than an example of Adams excellent work. The only images we will use are from the public domain collection.
I look forward to sharing this journey of discovery with you.
Frank Lee Ruggles