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ANSEL ADAMS: Classic Images
Trailer Camp Children, Richmond, California, 1944
To learn more about this photograph see the information below. To see a larger view of this image as an Acrobat Reader PDF file, click on the image...

Trailer Camp Children, Richmond, California, 1944 by Ansel Adams

This image is copyrighted by The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust and cannot be printed or reproduced in any way. The use of the photograph is limited to viewing in the context of this web site.

 

Trailer Camp Children, Richmond, California, 1944
Plate 50 in Ansel Adams - Classic Images

Source: Chapter 17, Documentary Photography in Ansel Adams - An Autobiography pp 257- 269 (See Bibliography under Resources.)


A. What Do You See in This Photograph?
B. Did Adams often Take Photographs Like This?
C. Why Did Adams take Documentary Photography?
D. Is Trailer Camp Children Art?
E. What Was His Most Well-Known Documentary?
F. Did Adams Dislike Documentary Photography?
G. Related links in this site

A. What Do You See in This Photograph?

  • How old are these children?
  • Where are their parents?
  • What would it be like to live in a trailer?
  • Do you think the children are hungry or not? Why?
  • What details do you notice?
  • Choose one child; what would he or she be thinking?


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B. Did Adams often Take Photographs Like This?
This is an unusual photograph for Ansel Adams, who is known for his images of nature. Yet he was outspoken in his political views. In 1983, Adams told an interviewer:

American society has "consistently overlooked the enormous importance of the farmer, the technician, the educator, the artist, and the laborer...I'm calling for greater equality to all citizens."


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C. Why Did Adams take Documentary Photography?
Documentary photography was very popular in American in the middle of the 20th century. In the 1930s Life magazine started and "helped expand the photograph as document into full visual essays with heart and social intention, nourishing the new American photo-journalist." In 1934 Adams met Margaret Bourke-White, one of the most successful photographers with Life magazine. Adams needed to do commercial photography in order to make a living, and most of his assignments came from Life or Fortune Magazine.

Adams partnered with Dorothea Lange for a number of stories. She had become well-known for her "great" photograph, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1938, which Adams considered compelling because of its art and documentary value. Lange was working as a photographer in the Farm Security Administration (FSA) project during the Depression.

One joint assignment with Lange for Fortune was on the agricultural situation in San Joaquin Valley of California. They were instructed to stress agribusiness, but Dorothea depicted the far less privileged small farmer, while Adams was "left with the large farms and the corporate spirit." Afterwards he had a clearer vision of the struggle. Always sensitive to nature, he said, "over exploitation will exhaust our soil and water and is certain to impoverish California..."
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D. Is Trailer Camp Children Art?
Photographs of people are a small part of the work for which Adams is most known. Here in this portrait of transient children, he reveals his social conscience. Although an image with political ramifications, Adams used his knowledge of art to capture moving expressions, organize the composition, and visualize the range gray tones.
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E. What Was His Most Well-Known Documentary?
Adams took pictures of the Japanese-Americans detained during World War II in the Manzanar Relocation Center in California . He published a book in 1944, Born Free and Equal, with his photographs and text critical of the detention. "I was profoundly affected by Manzanar." He found it very disturbing, but chose to emphasize the "admirable strength of spirit of the Nisei." Born Free and Equal was his first attempt at "the photographic essay" (telling the story with images). Adams found the form to be "the most complex task in (his) professional career."
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F. Did Adams Dislike Documentary Photography?
For Adams the form had limitations. In a letter to Dorothea lange in 1962, he wrote, "The connotations of much of documentary photography are - to me - quite rigid...I resent being told that certain things have significance...I resent the implications that unless photography has a politico-social function it is not of value to people at large. I resent the very obvious dislike of elements of beauty." Adams praised Lange as a "fine artist" which he said was "more important to the world than being merely an extension of a sociological movement."
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G. Related links in this site

Exhibit Home | Gallery | About Ansel Adams | About Photography | Lesson Plans & Activities | Student Projects | Resources | Programs & Tours | HMA Home

Housatonic Museum of Art
Housatonic Community College
900 Lafayette Blvd.
Bridgeport, CT 06604
For information call Robbin Zella, Director, 203-332-5052