Everyone knows Ansel Adams' photos of Yosemite. But I'd never heard of Fiat Lux, a set of over 6,700 Ansel Adams photographs of the University of California that constitute his second largest body of work. Adams shot these photos at the request of UC President Clark Kerr in the early 1960s. His charge to Adams: photograph the future of UC.
The University of California was at a crossroads, approaching its centennial. Kerr was working on his Master Plan for Higher Education.
Fiat Lux, the book highlighting Adams' UC photos, was published in 1967. By this time Kerr had stepped down over the Free Speech Movement and the protest movement was at its peak. Adams' centennial project never received the attention it deserved and was never reprinted.
UC Berkeley Professor Catherine Cole is bringing this collection back to light with Alix Schwartz and a core group of faculty and students. Cole is curating an exhibit of the original signed prints at the Bancroft Library on the Berkeley campus that will open this Fall. In the meantime, she and her team pitched Fiat Lux as the theme for Berkeley's On the Same Page program.
On the Same Page is an annual campus-wide program that gives students and faculty a shared text to explore and discuss each year: one book or film. This year, every Berkeley faculty member and every new student will receive a copy of Fiat Lux.
Fiat Lux opens with this line: "To look at the University of California is to look at California itself -- its land, its people, and their problems -- at the civilization rushing towards us from the future."
The UC is again at a crossroads. As noted on the project website: "Fifty years after Kerr and Adams expressed their visions for UC, the University of California faces one of the most difficult times in its history. While there have been fiscal challenges throughout the UC's 144-year history, the present crisis is of historic proportions, with calls for privatization and disaggregation of campuses voiced with unparalleled frequency and resonance. How the UC weathers this storm will have profound implications..."
The Fiat Lux website features the photos and a range of interactive tools and activities open to the public, from ranking and commenting on the photos to downloading the photos and incorporating them into new works of art and analysis. It opens today: On the Same Page: Fiat Lux.