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Book review: 'Three Mormon Towns' celebrates southern Utah life

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 2:26 p.m. MDT

"Ansel Adams and Dorthea Lange's Three Mormon Towns" is edited by Mark Hedengren. Lange photographed the Utah towns Toquerville, St. George and Gunlock in the 1950s and Hedengren went back and photographed them in 2011. (book cover)

"ANSEL ADAMS AND DORTHEA LANGE'S THREE MORMON TOWNS," edited by Mark Hedengren, Oakland Museum of California/Utah Arts Council, $29.99, 109 pages (nf)

In 1953, two of the most influencial photographers of the 20th century shot a series of photos for a September 1954 Life magazine article featuring Utah towns Toquerville, St. George and Gunlock in Washington County.

In “Ansel Adams & Dorothea Lange’s Three Mormon Towns,” Mark Hedengren, editor, has revisited a few of the thousands of photos shot for the Life magazine article, juxtaposing them with a section of his own black and white photos, shot in 2011, of the same three towns.

Contemporary poet Kimberly Johnson’s poem, “Locusts and Honey,” opens the book. The photos are bookended with a foreward by Mary Ellen Mark, a prominent 21st century photographer; a short essay by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, current senate majority leader and native of another small town, Searchlight, Nev.; an editor’s note by Hedengren, and a short history of the three towns by David Jacobs, professor of art history and photography/digital media at the University of Houston.

Main Street in St. George in 1953. (Dorthea Lange, "Three Mormon Towns") Main Street in St. George in 1953. (Dorthea Lange, "Three Mormon Towns")

“To capture the characters and the rituals of a small town — to freeze them in history — is as valuable as writing down and retelling its stories,” wrote Reid.

Each photo captures a moment in time, a personality, place or setting. The work of Adams and Lange has a unique clarity and storytelling quality few photographers ever attain.

Hedengren mentions that both Lange and Adams had ties to southern Utah. Adams’ child attended boarding school in Mt. Pleasant, Sanpete County.

While married to artist Maynard Dixon, Lange spent a significant amount of time in southern Utah and boarded two of her sons with a family in Toquerville.

A photo exhibit “Three Mormon Towns,” including 22 photographs taken by Hedengren in the same vein of Adams’ and Lange’s 1953 photos, the entire Life magazine article and works by Lange and Maynard Dixon are on display at the St. George Museum of Art through Jan. 18, 2014.

This home was built by women in the early days while their husbands were away defending their lands. That's why the stones are so small. (Dorthea Lange, "Three Mormon Towns") This home was built by women in the early days while their husbands were away defending their lands. That's why the stones are so small. (Dorthea Lange, "Three Mormon Towns")

Hedengren, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, currently works with Getty Images ­Global Assignments. He has an master's degree from the Glasgow School of Art and a bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University.

Rosemarie Howard lives in a 100-year-old house on Main Street, Springville. She enjoys creating multimedia projects. Her website is at dramaticdimensions.com.

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