See iconic photographers’ forgotten work in 1950s Mormon towns

Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange capture a time when the religion was growing.

  • Main street full of children in Gunlock, Utah, 1953.

    Dorothea Lange [and Ansel Adams] from the Oakland Museum of California Collection
  • Neon cowboy, "Wendover Will," in 1953.

    Dorothea Lange [and Ansel Adams] from the Oakland Museum of California Collection
  • Belle Bringhurst, Toquerville, Utah, in 1953.

    Dorothea Lange [and Ansel Adams] from the Oakland Museum of California Collection
  • Henry Bowler haying in Gunlock, Utah, 1953.

    Dorothea Lange [and Ansel Adams] from the Oakland Museum of California Collection
  • Young elders, Bishop Hunt, Glen McAllister, and Guy Bowler in Gunlock, Utah, 1953.

    Dorothea Lange [and Ansel Adams] from the Oakland Museum of California Collection
  • Canning, Gunlock, Utah, in 1953.

    Dorothea Lange [and Ansel Adams] from the Oakland Museum of California Collection
  • Rockville Cemetery, Utah, in 1953.

    Dorothea Lange [and Ansel Adams] from the Oakland Museum of California Collection
  • Paperboy in Toquerville, Utah, 1953.

    Dorothea Lange [and Ansel Adams] from the Oakland Museum of California Collection
  • Church service in Toquerville, Utah, 1953.

    Dorothea Lange [and Ansel Adams] from the Oakland Museum of California Collection
  • Mrs. Naegle, Toquerville, Utah, in 1953.

    Dorothea Lange [and Ansel Adams] from the Oakland Museum of California Collection
  • Newspaper stand in St. George, Utah, 1953.

    Dorothea Lange [and Ansel Adams] from the John and Lee Dixon Collection

 

In the 1950s, two legendary photographers created a body of work that has since been nearly forgotten. Dorothea Lange, whose images distilled the Great Depression, and landscape photographer Ansel Adams visited Utah — “The Place,” as Brigham Young called it — to document the lives of Mormon communities. Their “Three Mormon Towns” collaboration appeared in Life magazine, capitalizing on the public fascination with the growing religion, but the photographs all but faded from memory. In a Rugged Land re-assembles the images, capturing snippets of moving life as families rise from church pews, children balance atop horses and a mother cans pounds of green beans. In the text, James R. Swensen describes the project’s thorny history, showing how the images provide windows into the communities they depict as well as into the lives of their aging photographers, who hoped to “re-enter the discourse of photography.” 

In a Rugged Land: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and the Three Mormon Towns Collaboration, 1953-1954
By James R. Swensen
432 pages, softcover: $34.95
University of Utah Press, 2018

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