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Ansel Adams

(1902–1984, born in San Francisco, California)


Ansel Adams is one of the most well-known and distinguished American photographers of the 20th century. His photographs of the American West, particularly Yosemite National Park in California, have become iconic. Adams was drawn to the monumental landscapes and pristine beauty of Yosemite during a trip with his family in 1916 and subsequently visited every year. His photographs penetrate the surface of nature and humanity and reveal the commonalities in all things and profound truths about the world at large. He was committed to environmentalism and the preservation of precious uninhabited areas. Adams had a long connection to The Sierra Club, which published his photography as early as 1922.

With Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and others, Adams was a founding member of Group f/64, named after the aperture that gave them the sharp, “straight,” yet highly expressive photographs for which they are known. He also established Aperture magazine and helped form the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ.

Maggi Weston, Edward Weston’s daughter-in-law, approached Adams in August 1978 with the idea of producing his favorite images in a portfolio and making them available to museums and institutions. The result was the Museum Set, a retrospective portfolio of 75 images previously selected by Adams himself as the most important of his career. The negatives were made between 1923 and 1968, with prints produced by Adams between 1979 and 1983. No two Museum Sets were intended to be the same. Each set was to contain ten of his most important images and a variable group of 15 images chosen from a list of 60. There were only a few complete sets printed of 75 photographs (the basic ten, all 60 variables, and the five-part series, Surf Sequence). The Capital Group Foundation owns one of these complete Museum Sets, in pristine condition.

Selected works

Edward Sheriff Curtis

(1868–1952, born in Whitewater, Wisconsin)


The photographs of Edward Curtis document the traditions and histories of Native Americans that were rapidly disappearing at the beginning of the 20th century. Curtis took more than 40,000 photographs of more than 80 tribes, 10,000 recordings of Native American languages and songs, and wrote biographies and histories of tribal leaders and everyday life. In most cases, Curtis’s documents and photographs are the only records of these tribes and their way of life. His portraits and scenes are sensitively rendered, with beautiful details of native dress and the landscapes in areas where the tribes lived. This monumental endeavor was Curtis’s life work.

Curtis became an apprentice photographer in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the age of 17. Financier J.P. Morgan funded production in 1906 of The North American Indian, 20 volumes of illustrated text and 20 portfolios of large-format photographs. The original intent was to publish 500 sets, but only 272 were actually printed in Curtis’s lifetime.

The J.P. Morgan Library owns the complete first set of books and 20 portfolios by Curtis. Volume I was published in 1907, and the final volume appeared in 1930. The Capital Group Foundation owns Portfolios VI (1911), XI (1916), XVIII (1927), XIX (1930), as well as one of the illustrated books, Volume XI (1916.) In addition, the Foundation has numerous reproduction images that are all finely printed from original plates.

Selected works

John Gutmann

(1905–1998, born in Breslau, Germany, which is now Wroclaw, Poland)


John Gutmann trained as a painter in Weimar Germany under the tutelage of Otto Mueller, a member of the German Expressionist movement. In 1927, Gutmann moved to Berlin, where he taught and exhibited paintings and drawings. While not officially associated with modern institutions such as the Bauhaus, he witnessed some of the most important developments in the art and architecture of his times. In addition to his artistic pursuits, Gutmann developed a keen interest in German popular weekly illustrated magazines at a time when the use of photographic illustrations was on the rise. Even though his primary medium was painting, these encounters with modernism, photography and mass culture had a formative influence on his later work.

Having fled Germany, Gutmann settled in San Francisco in 1933 and purchased a Rolleiflex camera to support himself by selling photographic illustrations to German and American magazine publishers. In time, photography became his adopted profession. Like other German photographers, he sometimes approached subject matter such as athletes, cars and the street as typologies of American culture.

Gutmann created representations of American culture taken from the perspective of a foreigner or outsider. His use of the Rolleiflex camera positioned at his waist enabled him to distort his subjects. Images such as The Beautiful Clown and Death Stalks Fillmore have an exotic, almost surreal character. These outlooks were distinctly different from the romanticized, highly aesthetic considerations of quintessentially American photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, whose works are also represented in the Capital Group Foundation collection. Because of their unusual nature, the 50 John Gutmann photographs, selected by the Foundation with the artist, add a unique dimension to any holdings of American photography.

Selected works

Helen Levitt

(1913–2009, born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York)


Helen Levitt photographed the streets of New York City, particularly the poor neighborhoods of Spanish Harlem and the Lower East Side. Her frank, lively photographs capture the people of these neighborhoods going about their daily lives, forever caught in an instant. While there is some social commentary in her photographs, they lyrically reveal the theater of everyday life with charm and humor.

Levitt left high school before graduating to pursue her interest in art. She soon apprenticed with a family friend who was a commercial portrait photographer.

It was the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson that inspired Levitt to explore photography as art. In addition to Cartier-Bresson, Levitt was greatly influenced by Walker Evans, Ben Shahn and James Agee. She was lauded by them in turn, and became known as a photographer’s photographer. Levitt’s first major show was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1943 when she was 30 years old. She had retrospectives at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1991; at the International Center for Photography in New York in 1997, and the Centre National de la Photographie in Paris, France, in 2001.

The Capital Group Foundation collection contains modern prints of Levitt’s early black-and-white photographs from the 1940s and also her later color photography from the 1970s. She was an early practitioner of color photography and led the way for its widespread use. The 55 images chosen by the Foundation capture Levitt’s work at its best. Whether showing children getting ready for Halloween or an elderly woman sitting on her stoop, her work is both gritty and touching, momentary and magical.

Wright Morris

(1910–1998, born in Central City, Nebraska)


Wright Morris had a long and distinguished career as both a photographer and a writer, and both forms of expression are inextricably linked in his work. He was the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships (1942 and 1947), the National Book Award (1957), and the American Book Award (1980). From the mid-1930s on, Morris pursued writing as his main avocation. On a drive across the U.S., he became visually captivated by icons of rural America: farm houses, artifacts, interiors and the like. The primary aim of his photography was not strict documentation, but preservation of a sense of history and place. After his “tour,” he began taking photographs in earnest and created books or “photo-texts,” as Wright liked to call his work, in which the photographic image and the written word presented a composite view of his subjects.

Wright Morris’s childhood years had a formative influence on all his creative output. His mother died while giving birth, and his father was absent during his earliest years. Frequent moves throughout the U.S.—from Omaha, Nebraska, to his Uncle Harry’s farm in Texas—and his studies at Claremont, California, also shaped his creative work. The Home Place (1948), a novel in which some of the Capital Foundation’s 38 Morris photographs appear, is one such example. Narrated in the first person, the novel tells the story of a family that moved to Nebraska and endured the hardships of the Great Depression. Images such as Uncle Harry Entering Barn and Front Room Reflected in the Mirror, which are featured in The Home Place, are not mere illustrations but amplifications of a story of human existence, nostalgia and local history, as imagined by both the viewer and the author. Underlying the fictional text and photographs of The Home Place are Morris’s personal reminiscences of poignant moments and observations from his childhood.

The Capital Group Foundation’s photography collection addresses rural and urban America. In the case of Wright Morris, it is the intersection of literature and photography that differentiates his body of work from that of other photographers in the collection.

Selected works

Gordon Parks

(1912–2006, born in Fort Scott, Kansas)


Gordon Parks was a photojournalist with the eye of an artist, and is best known for his documentation of the social upheavals in America, particularly of the African-American experience during and after World War II. From impoverished beginnings, Parks was the youngest of 15 children born to a tenant farmer. He worked as a piano player in a brothel and a semi-pro basketball player. But it was during his work as a train waiter that Parks picked up a magazine with images from the Farm Security Administration photographers. These photos inspired him to purchase a camera from a pawn shop shortly thereafter.

Parks began working as a self-taught freelance photographer, shooting everything from African-American society women to fashion to the South Side of Chicago. He became the first African-American man to work on the staff of Vogue in 1944 and Life in 1948. Parks traveled extensively for these magazines, but it was his documentation of the civil rights movement in America that produced his most iconic images. His photographs captured the chaos and energy of the time, while bringing out the dignity and individuality of each subject.

Through his camera, Parks explored the dire reality of discrimination and poverty unflinchingly, often literally moving the viewer to action. For example, when his photographs of young Flavio da Silva, near death in a Brazilian slum, were published, the images raised enough money to send the boy to America for surgery and buy his family a new home.

With Parks’s assistance, the Capital Group Foundation selected 74 black-and-white and Cibachrome prints that represent the complete range of the Parks œuvre. His portraits of the famous, such as Ingrid Bergman and Muhammad Ali, delve deeper than the gaze of an adoring public, evidenced by his portrayal of Bergman’s pensive face or Ali’s bruised and battered knuckles after a fight. His immortal photograph of Ella Watson in American Gothic shows Parks at his pinnacle, where he is both unwavering and caring. Parks captured dynamic and eventful moments in American history with the dexterity of a journalist and the gaze of an insider.

Selected works

Edward Weston

(1886–1958, born in Highland Park, Illinois)


One of the most influential photographers in the modern era, Edward Weston needs little introduction to connoisseurs and collectors. It is well known that he began taking photographs at age 16 when his father gave him a Kodak Bulls-eye camera. His initial work was in the pictorialist, or soft focus, style. However, after a trip to New York to consult with Alfred Stieglitz, Weston ultimately favored straight, or highly defined, sharp-focus photography, which was an important phase in the history of this medium.

Weston’s visit to Mexico in 1923 with his muse Tina Modotti was a pivotal moment in his career. To Weston, the camera, not man’s eye alone, had the power to capture its subject in all its beauty. In 1932, with Ansel Adams and others, Weston founded Group f/64, named after the aperture that allowed them to achieve highly detailed, luminous photographs. In 1937, Weston became the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship. His photographs are explorations of reducing a form to its essence, allowing a cloud to become a nude, a pepper to become an embracing figure, and a landscape to become an abstraction.

In his later years, Weston embarked on the monumental Project Prints series and planned to include what he deemed the best photographs he had taken over the course of his career. The Center of Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona, houses the complete archive of this massive endeavor. The Capital Group Foundation owns many of the images in the Project Prints series. Although Weston suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, he was able to oversee the printing of these images by his sons Cole and Brett Weston.

The Capital Group’s collection of Project Prints contains diverse works that are less well known to the public and together represent an excellent overview of Weston’s achievements.

Selected works

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