UC Berkeley exhibit brings Ansel Adams photographs out of obscurity

"Fiat Lux: Redux" is a new exhibit on display in The Bancroft Library. The gallery features photographs Ansel Adams shot of the university in the 1960s.
Leya Andrews/Staff
"Fiat Lux: Redux" is a new exhibit on display in The Bancroft Library. The gallery features photographs Ansel Adams shot of the university in the 1960s.

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Through an exhibit that opened Sept. 27 at Bancroft Library, signed prints of photographs taken by Ansel Adams are being reintroduced to a new generation of students.

The prints were rediscovered from UC Berkeley archives in spring 2011 and are featured in an exhibit called Fiat Lux Redux. The exhibit was created to capture how the spirit of the University of California during its expansion in the 1960s could be used to shape the university in the future, said Catherine Cole, the exhibit’s lead curator and a professor of theater, dance and performance studies.

“I’ve been very interested in using these photographs … to break the impasse that we’ve had around very difficult situations that the UC system has faced in the last three years,” she said. “They can help set our sights on how we can renovate and reimagine this institution for the citizens of the 21st century.”

Forty-eight of the 605 prints owned by the campus and prints created from negatives now owned by UC Riverside are on display at the exhibit, which will run through February 2013 and is the centerpiece of the campus’s On the Same Page program. Beginning in 2012, the program seeks to introduce faculty and incoming students to a common curriculum modeled around the exhibit’s theme.

Adams took the photographs documenting the expansion of the UC system in the 1960s for a book called “Fiat Lux” — commissioned by former UC President Clark Kerr — to commemorate the university’s 100th anniversary. Adams photographed the landscapes and buildings over a four-year period while touring the university’s various campuses, research stations and agricultural outposts. However, many of his photographs faded into obscurity following the dismissal of Kerr by the UC Board of Regents in 1967.

Cole said the prints featured were chosen by a committee of UC Berkeley faculty and staff to mirror themes presented in “Fiat Lux.”

“There are many images that were chosen to fit within the idea of the UC system and California as well as Clark Kerr’s vision,” said Jack von Euw, Bancroft Library’s curator of pictorial collections. “I would say that there’s a really good representation of the overall commission (by Kerr) in the show.”

Ken Light, a professor of photography at the campus’s Graduate School of Journalism, said that while Adams’ work for the university was very much commercial, it still carried his trademark aesthetic style.

“You can look at the skies and how dark they are — which is a trademark of a lot of Ansel’s work,” he said. “The prints were beautiful, and they have an amazing luminosity to them, with the blacks being incredibly rich. The craft that Ansel did with this was pretty amazing.”

Contact Andy Nguyen at [email protected].