Revisiting the iconography of Ansel Adams
Paintings and text by Peter Edlund
ANSEL ADAMS ECHOED the Hudson River School practice of idolizing the American wilderness with little political regard to what was actually happening around wild places. In 1943, Adams was hired by the Relocation Authority, a branch of the Department of Justice, to document the lives of Japanese-Americans imprisoned during World War II at Camp Manzanar in southern California. During this time he also took many of his characteristic and subsequently famous landscape views.
The series of works represented in this portfolio, Homeland Security, comprises painted adaptations of Adams’s black-and-white photographs made at or near the Japanese internment camps. Wartime in America then, and since September 11, 2001, was and remains a time of racial profiling, diminished civil liberties, and retaliation.
Two of my pieces directly allude to the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, the event that prompted Homeland Security. I painted two versions of Adams’s images of the Yellowstone geyser Old Faithful in orange and blue, the two colors I associate with the morning of September 11, which I experienced from my home in lower Manhattan: the orange of the explosions and fires, and the brilliant blue of the sky. I have painted a fictitious American landscape, as fictitious as the one represented in the photographs themselves.