Daily Picture Show

Ansel Adams, Street Photographer: 1940s Los Angeles

We've all seen the landscapes. Maybe too many of them. But Ansel Adams as a street photographer? Who knew!

  • Cole Weston, son of photographer Edward Weston, kisses his wife, Dorothy, goodbye outside their home before heading off to work. At the time, Weston worked as a metalsmith at the Lockheed Aircraft Company plant in Burbank, earning 51 cents an hour.
    Hide caption
    Cole Weston, son of photographer Edward Weston, kisses his wife, Dorothy, goodbye outside their home before heading off to work. At the time, Weston worked as a metalsmith at the Lockheed Aircraft Company plant in Burbank, earning 51 cents an hour.
    Ansel Adams/Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
  • Residents of the Olympic Trailer Court in Santa Monica relax and play with their dog outside their trailer.
    Hide caption
    Residents of the Olympic Trailer Court in Santa Monica relax and play with their dog outside their trailer.
    Ansel Adams/Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
  • An exterior view of the "The Pup," a hot dog and hamburger stand located in the community of Venice.
    Hide caption
    An exterior view of the "The Pup," a hot dog and hamburger stand located in the community of Venice.
    Ansel Adams/Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
  • A Los Angeles Railway bus travels past a Van de Kamp's Bakery in Beverly Hills.
    Hide caption
    A Los Angeles Railway bus travels past a Van de Kamp's Bakery in Beverly Hills.
    Ansel Adams/Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
  • A young girl, seen with her baby doll, stands outside of Olympic Grocery in Santa Monica. Some residential trailers can be seen in the background on the right.
    Hide caption
    A young girl, seen with her baby doll, stands outside of Olympic Grocery in Santa Monica. Some residential trailers can be seen in the background on the right.
    Ansel Adams/Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
  • People stand on the Ocean Park Pier, looking north toward the Santa Monica Pier.
    Hide caption
    People stand on the Ocean Park Pier, looking north toward the Santa Monica Pier.
    Ansel Adams/Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
  • Women who work at the Santa Monica Douglas Company plant eat lunch at the Cape Cod Cottage.
    Hide caption
    Women who work at the Santa Monica Douglas Company plant eat lunch at the Cape Cod Cottage.
    Ansel Adams/Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
  • An exterior view of the photography studio owned by John E. Reed in Hollywood. On the lawn is a large photograph of entertainer Jimmy Durante.
    Hide caption
    An exterior view of the photography studio owned by John E. Reed in Hollywood. On the lawn is a large photograph of entertainer Jimmy Durante.
    Ansel Adams/Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
  • A drummer plays with brushes at an unidentified location in the Los Angeles area.
    Hide caption
    A drummer plays with brushes at an unidentified location in the Los Angeles area.
    Ansel Adams/Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
  • A man walks on an unidentified Burbank street. The Lockheed Aircraft plant and the Verdugo Mountains are seen in the background.
    Hide caption
    A man walks on an unidentified Burbank street. The Lockheed Aircraft plant and the Verdugo Mountains are seen in the background.
    Ansel Adams/Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
  • Hundreds of Burbank Lockheed Aircraft employees take a lunch break around a covered eating area.
    Hide caption
    Hundreds of Burbank Lockheed Aircraft employees take a lunch break around a covered eating area.
    Ansel Adams/Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
  • Cole Weston, his wife, Dorothy (right), and their friend watch a bowling tournament at Burbank Bowl.
    Hide caption
    Cole Weston, his wife, Dorothy (right), and their friend watch a bowling tournament at Burbank Bowl.
    Ansel Adams/Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library

1 of 12

View slideshow i

Although well-respected by the 1930s, the famous landscape photographer could not have sustained his Sierra series, for example, if it were not supplemented by commercial work. According to the Ansel Adams Gallery: "Clients ran the gamut, including the Yosemite concessionaire ... Kodak, Zeiss, IBM, AT&T, a small women's college, a dried fruit company, and Life, Fortune ... in short, everything from portraits to catalogues to Coloramas."

So street scenes are not entirely surprising. There is, however, some surprise behind this series, which sits quietly in storage at the Los Angeles Public Library. In 1939, Fortune magazine commissioned Adams to document the "aviation history" of the L.A. area, as the library site says. I'm no expert on the subject of L.A. aviation, so I can't really fill in the historical holes.

But one interesting tidbit is the young man, Cole Weston, who appears in many of the images. His father, Edward Weston, was also a famous photographer and a good friend of Adams. Cole would eventually become a photographer as well, but at the time of these photographs, he was a metalsmith at Lockheed Aircraft Company. (A somewhat strange coincidence?)

Adams donated the photographs to the library in the 1960s. He wrote in a letter: "The weather was bad over a rather long period and none of the pictures were very good. ... I would imagine that they represent about $100.00 minimum value. ... At any event, I do not want them back."

To which the librarian responded: "Even though you say they are not your best work, they present an interesting and useful study ... We have consulted our Art Department ... and have concluded that a fair value would be one hundred and fifty dollars ($150.00)."

Ha!

Christina Rice, acting senior librarian of photos at the Los Angeles Public Library, could not give an estimate of the collection's actual value. I'd venture to say you could tack on several zeros to that initial price tag. Rice has been at the library for about five years, and to her knowledge, few historians have researched the collection. Perhaps that's because it's one of the most unassuming, barely advertised collections in Adams' photographic canon. Which makes me wonder: What else is out there off the radar?

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.