The Ansel Adams Center for Photography 1989 - 2001
Upon the death of Ansel Adams in 1984, The Ansel Adams Center for Photography was founded by Adams' Carmel-based group The Friends of Photography. It opened its doors at 250 Fourth Street in San Francisco in 1989 in a former Yerba Buena health clinic. During its twelve years of operation, the Ansel Adams Center was an integral part of the SoMa gallery scene, including a permanent gallery of Adams' work, a small educational gallery on the history of photography, and larger galleries dedicated to changing exhibits. Highlights included the blockbuster travelling show of the mid-1990s: "Talking Pictures", and a monumental WWII remembrance in cooperation with the Japan Peace Museum: "Nagasaki Journey". The Ansel Adams Center suffered from financial troubles during the Bay Area technology boom. With rents skyrocketing and some difficulties defining its mission between the preservation of Adams' legacy and the postmodern vision of Director Andy Grundberg, the gallery moved to 655 Mission St. briefly, but then closed its doors permanently in 2001.
Backstory and Context
Adams was the controlling force behind the Friends until his death, when the organization decided to take its mission to San Francisco in order to find a wider audience and grow the city's reputation as a cultural center for photography.4 It took several years to raise the funds necessary to renovate the former health clinic at 250 Fourth Street, and, when the Center debuted in 1989, the event was heralded by both the NY Times and the Los Angeles Times.5 ''It's an extraordinary space, beautifully designed with an awareness to trends and contemporary photography,'' said John Bloom, the editor of the magazine Photo Metro and a guest curator of an opening exhibition. ''There's so much large-scale work out there, and the typical photo galleries are too small to show them properly. There's also a variety of moods to each gallery.''6
The inaugural director was Ronald Egherman, who presided over a program of exhibitions related to the established legacy of the Friends. The first exhibits were ". . . a large contemporary show, called "Nature and Culture: Conflict and Reconciliation in Recent Photography"; "Legacy: Northern California's Photographic Heritage," a concise historical survey; "Tracings of Light: Sir John Herschel and the Camera Lucida," featuring landscape drawings made with an optical drawing aid, and selections from the center's collection of Adams' work."7 In 1992, the Center hosted a conference on the legacy of Ansel Adams, which resulted in the publication: Ansel Adams: New Light, Essays on His Legacy and Legend.8
From 1992 - 1997, the Friends was led by former NY Times photography critic Andy Grundberg, whose book, Crisis of the Real, had helped define postmodern photographic criticism. Over five years, Grundberg steered the Friends towards a more contemporary roster of exhibits. This change, added to a substantial rent increase during the first years of the Bay Area technology boom, led to a crisis for the Ansel Adams Center, both financially and related to its mission. The Friends struggled, losing key staff and its building, until 2001, when the organization disbanded permanently.9
The Friends of Photography Bookstore had enjoyed a long legacy as one of the finest photography bookstores in the world serving client collectors as far away as France and Japan.
Staff members from the Friends went on to contribute to the field of photography at the Corcoran in Washington D.C., the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, the San Francisco Film Board, and at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art in Portland, OR. The Friends' collection of photographs was sold, its education exhibits were acquired by the Oakland Museum of California, and its 3000-volume library was acquired by the San Francisco Art Institute.10
2. "SFAI History," The San Francisco Art Institute, accessed December 30, 2016.
3. James G. Alinder, First Light: The Friends of Photography 1967 - 1987, (Carmel: The Friends of Photography, 1987), p. 8.
4. Susanne Muchnic, "Friends of Photography Moves into San Francisco," Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1989, accessed December 30, 2016.
5. Julie Lew "Museum is Named for Ansel Adams," New York Times, October 8, 1989, accessed December 30, 2016.
6. Lew, "Museum is Named for Ansel Adams."
7. Muchnic, "Friends of Photography Moves."
8. Robert Dawson, Michael Read, eds., "Ansel Adams: New Light:Essays on His Legacy and Legend," (San Francisco: The Friends of Photography, 1993).
9. David Bonetti, "Ansel Adams Center to Shut its Doors, Nonprofit will Sell 140 of his Prints," SFGate, October 18, 2001, accessed December 30, 2016.
10. Bonetti, "Ansel Adams Center to Shut its Doors."