Comments/Context: We've had a copy of Summer Nights in our photobook library since the very beginning of our lives as photography collectors; it sits among a shelf full of Adams' books and essays, likely wedged in somewhere near The New West and Denver. In the past, I thought of the Summer Nights work as a direct extension of Adams' daytime images of environmental mismanagement and the encroachment of poorly planned suburban development. Without really looking (or with a preconceived conclusion in mind), I assumed the harshness of his tract houses, construction sites, and scrub lands would be applied with the same unflinching commentary to his nighttime scenes. As a result, I only saw what I thought I was supposed to see: the ugliness of the wincing glare of the street lights, the sidewalks bordered by unruly weeds, the empty parking lots, and the depressing ranch houses engulfed in shadows.
It is with a great deal of surprise that I must now admit that I had it all wrong. In visiting this fine exhibit, my overwhelming reaction to seeing the pictures in person was how gentle they consistently are. While Adams' compositions are not beautiful in any traditional sense, I found plenty of moments of grace, especially in the way that leaves and wildflowers catch the light or the way silhouettes are framed against the moonlit sky. The dramatic shadows that leak across the sidewalk or cover the sides of houses and garages with dappled patterns are no longer particularly ominous or hostile; I saw them more as moments of goose bump inducing shivers, even though the warmth of the night air surrounds you.