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Ansel Adams, American, (1902–1982)
Saint Francis Church, Rancho de Taos, New Mexico , c. 1929
Photographic materials on paper
28 x 24 in. (71.12 x 60.96 cm)

Object Type: Photography
Technique: Photography
Credit Line: Gift of Virginia Adams
Accession Number: 2013.5.17

In 1941, Ansel Adams was contracted by the Department of the Interior to create a photomural of natural landscapes for its building in Washington, DC. Adams had already shot a great deal of photographs when the project came to an end due to the onset of World War II. This photograph belongs to a series that Adams captured of Old Faithful Geyser during one of his visits to Yellowstone National Park. The plume of water consumes most of the frame as it erupts from the earth. The white water dwarfs the mountains in the background while reaching into the dark sky. The contrast between the water and background draws the viewer’s eye into the sulfuric mass and holds it there.

Rachel Rangel, Cal Poly Pomona ’17


Ansel Adams once said that Taos New Mexico’s San Francisco de Asis Mission Church “seems an outcropping of the earth rather than merely an object constructed upon it.1 It is this quality of the church—its deep-rooted monumental presence—that Adams documents in this photo.

When the Spanish settled Ranchos de Taos in the eighteenth century, Taos was already an ancient community, inhabited by Pueblo Indians for thousands of years. Built in 1815, the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church is remarkable for the way that it blends Spanish architectural styles with native, adobe building. In this picture, Adams captures the rear view of the building, less recognizable as a church, and celebrates the sculptural qualities of buttressed adobe. Indeed, Adams’s black-and-white photography beautifully accentuates the play of light and shadow across the church’s organic adobe surfaces. Other artists, such as Georgia O’Keefe and Paul Strand, also painted and photographed this rear view of the church.
This image was included in Adams’s first book, Taos Pueblo, the success of which, even in the midst of the Great Depression, inspired Adams to abandon his dream of becoming a concert pianist and devote his life to photography.2

1Hammond, Anne. Ansel Adams: Divine Performance. New Haven: Yale UP, 2002.

New Mexico’s unique adobe structures fascinated Adams, who was largely unrecognized for his architectural photography. His interest is understandable: adobe has a timeless air to it, and its earthy texture makes it seem like a natural extension of the landscape. Adams’s residence in New Mexico was an early breakthrough for his artistic practice. There he met American painter Georgia O’Keeffe, and began to experiment with Alfred Stieglitz’s ideas on modernist photography, exemplified here by the abstract form of the church and the solid field of gray that has replaced the sky. The influence of his New Mexico compatriot is also shown in his choice of subject: O’Keeffe painted her own rendition of this church the same year Adams shot this image.

David Kuhio Ahia, PO ’18
Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern

Between 1978 and his death in 1984, Ansel Adams created a special inventory of fine photographic prints of his most important and favorite images. Adams created these prints in order to make his work more available to a wide range of institutions for public display and educational purposes as part of their permanent collections. These prints were sold in sets to individuals, corporations, and institutions suject to the written agreement that each set would not be sold on the open market, bu rather would be donated to institutions for public display and educational purposes. These sets of fine prints became known as the Ansel Adams Museum Sets.

Some of the institutions that have received gifts of Museum Set prints include The National Gallery of Art, the Wilderness Society, the Stanford art Museum, the de Young Museum, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Cornell University, and Princeton University.

Scripps College is very pleased to be the recipient of an Ansel Adams Museum Set through the generosity of the Virginia Adams Charitable Trust, created by Adams's wife, Virginia Best Adams. This gift to the Scripps College collection was made directly by the Virginia Adams Charitable Trust.

The copyright to this work and all works in the Ansel Adams Museum Set is held by the Virginia Adams Charitable Trust.

This work bears the signature of the artist in pencil at the lower right, directly beneath the photo.

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