Craggy, wild, majestic. Looking at an Ansel Adams photograph makes me want to unearth my hiking boots from the back of the spare-room closet and climb the nearest mountain.
I had no idea what to expect from his Hawaiian photos–taken in the 40s and 50s. Of course, there were a few of volcanoes and crashing waves, but this was the one that I went back to look at more closely, to contemplate. The figure of a man carved into a slab of rough lava rock, the indentation drifted full of kiawe leaves–entitled Petroglyph, outlined in kiawe leaves–represented to Adams the synthesis of the ancient and the new that he found in Hawaii.
The kiawe tree (Prosopis pallida), according to the U.S. Forest Service’s website, was introduced in 1828 by Father Bachelot, the first Catholic priest in Hawaii. He started the tree from a seed carried with him from Paris and planted it near a church in Honolulu. Within twelve years the offspring of his sprout had become the most common shade tree in the city and were quickly spreading to the other islands. Today kiawe trees cover thousands of acres across Hawaii. All are descended from the priest’s original plant.
Adams took his photo near Kawaihae on the west coast of the island of Hawaii less than 15 miles north of the Anaeho’omalu Beach where, today, this kiawe tree shelters a colony of cats.
The exhibit, Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Pictures of Hawai’i, will be at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe through September 17th.