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Adams, Ansel

Ansel Adams

Born: February 20, 1902
San Francisco, California
Died: April 22, 1984
Carmel, California

American photographer

Ansel Adams was a masterful photographer and a lifelong conservationist (a person who works to preserve and protect the environment) who encouraged understanding of, and respect for, the natural environment. Although he spent a large part of his career in commercial photography, he is best known for his photographs of landscapes.

Early life

Ansel Easton Adams, the only child of Charles Hitchcock and Olive Bray Adams, was born on February 20, 1902, in San Francisco, California, near the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1906 an aftershock from the famous earthquake of that year threw him to the floor and gave him a badly broken nose. His father, a successful businessman who owned an insurance agency and a chemical factory, sent him to private, as well as public, schools. Adams was shy and self-conscious about his nose and had problems in school. He received only an eighth-grade education, preferring to learn mainly through following his own interests. From a young age he enjoyed the outdoors, taking many long walks and exploring.

At age twelve Adams began playing the piano. He was serious about music and decided to pursue it as a career. But he was also interested in photography. A family trip to Yosemite National Park in 1916, where he made his first amateur photos, is said to have determined his direction in life. He then found a job as a photo technician for a commercial firm, which helped him learn more about his hobby. In 1919 he joined the Sierra Club, an organization devoted to protecting the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. He spent the next few summers working as a caretaker in the organization's headquarters in Yosemite Valley. Later in life, from 1936 to 1970, Adams was president of the Sierra Club, one of the many distinguished positions that he held.

In the 1920s Adams was spending as much time as he could in the Sierra Nevada, hiking, exploring, and taking photographs. He became friendly with leaders of the Sierra Club, had photos and writings printed in the club's official publication, and became more involved with the conservation movement. He even met his wife, Virginia Best, in Yosemite. They were married in 1928 and had two children.

Photography career

Ansel Adams gave up on the piano and decided to become a full-time professional photographer at about the time that some of his work was published in limited edition collections, such as Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras (1927) and Taos Pueblo (1930), with text written by Mary Austin. His first important one-man show was held in San Francisco in 1932 at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum.

Adams went on to open the Ansel Adams Gallery for the Arts. He also taught, lectured, and worked on advertising assignments in the San Francisco area. During the 1930s he also began his extensive publications on methods of photography, insisting throughout his life on the importance of careful craftsmanship. In 1936 Alfred Stieglitz (18641946) gave Adams a oneman show in his New York galleryonly the second time the work of a young photographer was exhibited by Stieglitz.

In 1937 Adams moved to Yosemite Valley close to his major subject and began publishing a stream of volumes, including Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail (1938), Illustrated Guide to Yosemite Valley (1940), Yosemite and the High Sierra (1948), and My Camera in Yosemite Valley (1949).

New ideas on photography

In 1930 Adams met the famous photographer Paul Strand (18901976) while they were working in Taos, New Mexico, and the man and his work had a lasting effect on Adams's approach to photography. Strand encouraged Adams to change his approach from a soft expression of subjects to a much clearer, harder treatment, so-called "straight photography." This idea was further reinforced by his association with the short-lived, but important, group of photographers known as f/64 (referring to the lens opening which guarantees a distinct image), which included Edward Weston (18861958) and Imogen Cunningham (18831976). This group helped the development of photography as a fine art.

In one sense Ansel Adams's work is an extensive record of what is still left of the wilderness, the shrinking untouched part of the natural environment. Yet to see his work only as photographic images is to miss the main point that he tried to make: without a guiding vision, photography is not necessarily an important activity. The finished product, as Adams saw it, must be thought up before it can be executed. With nineteenth-century artists and philosophers (seekers of wisdom) he shared the belief that this vision must be inspired by life on earth. Photographs, he believed, were not taken from the environment but were made into something greater than themselves.

Ansel Adams died on April 22, 1984. During his life he was criticized for photographing rocks while the world was falling apart. He responded by suggesting that "the understanding of the world of nature will aid in holding the world of man together."

For More Information

Adams, Ansel and Mary Street. Ansel Adams: An Autobiography. Boston: Little Brown, 1985.

Alinder, Mary Street. Ansel Adams: A Biography. New York: Holt, 1996.

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Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) was not only a masterful photographic technician but a lifelong conservationist who pleaded for understanding of, and respect for, the natural environment. Although he spent a large part of his career in commercial photography, he is best known for his majestic landscape photographs.

Ansel Easton Adams was born on February 20, 1902, in San Francisco, California, near the Golden Gate Bridge. His father, a successful businessman, sent his son to private, as well as public, schools; beyond such formal education, however, Adams was largely self-taught.

His earliest aspiration was to become a concert pianist, but he turned to photography in the late teens of the century; a trip to Yosemite National Park in 1916, where he made his first amateurish photos, is said to have determined his direction in life. Subsequently, he worked as photo technician for a commercial firm.

He joined the Sierra Club in 1919 and worked as a caretaker in their headquarters in Yosemite Valley. Later in life, from 1936 to 1970, Adams was president of the Sierra Club, one of the many distinguished positions that he held.

Ansel Adams decided to become a full time professional photographer at about the time that some of his work was published in limited edition portfolios, one entitled Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras (1927) and the other, Taos Pueblo (1930), with a text written by Mary Austin.

His first important one-man show was held in San Francisco in 1932 at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. Subsequently, he opened the Ansel Adams Gallery for the Arts, taught, lectured, and worked on advertising assignments in the San Francisco area; during the 1930s he also began his extensive publications on the craft of photography, insisting throughout his life on the importance of meticulous craftsmanship. In 1936 Alfred Stieglitz gave Adams a one-man show in his New York gallery, only the second of the work of a young photographer (in 1917 Paul Strand was the first) to be exhibited by Stieglitz.

In 1937 Adams moved to Yosemite Valley close to his major subject and began publishing a stream of superbly produced volumes including Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail (1938); Illustrated Guide to Yosemite Valley (1940); Yosemite and the High Sierra (1948); and My Camera in Yosemite Valley (1949).

In 1930 Adams met the venerable Paul Strand while they were working in Taos, New Mexico, and the man and his work had a lasting effect on Adams' approach to photography by shifting his approach from a soft formulation of subjects to a much clearer, harder treatment, so-called "straight photography." This orientation was further reinforced by his association with the shortlived, but influential, group which included Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham and called itself f/64, referring to the lens opening which virtually guarantees distinctness of image.

Throughout much of his early career Adams worked both on commercial assignments and in pursuit of his own vision. He saw no inherent conflict between the two approaches since, as he affirmed, "I don't have any idea that commercialism or professionalism is on one side of the fence and the creative side is on the other. They're both interlocked."

In one sense Ansel Adams' work is an extensive documentation of what is still left of the wilderness, the dwindling untouched segment of the natural environment. Yet to see his work only as documentary is to miss the main point that he tried to make: without a guiding vision, photography is a trivial activity. The finished product, as Adams saw it, must be visualized before it is executed; and he shared with 19th century artists and philosophers the belief that this vision must be embedded within the context of life on earth. Photographs, he believed, are not taken from the environment but are made into something greater than themselves.

During his life, Ansel Adams was criticized for photographing rocks while the world was falling apart; he responded to the criticism by suggesting that "the understanding of the inanimate and animate world of nature will aid in holding the world of man together."

Further Reading

A great deal has been written by and about Ansel Adams; of particular value are two books that are superbly illustrated with his work. Nancy Hewhall's Ansel Adams: The Eloquent Light (1963) provides a good analysis of his work and place in the history of photography; and Ansel Adams' book Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs (1983) is a firsthand account of his working methods. For a deeper understanding of his thinking see his essays "What is good photography?" (1940), "A personal credo" (1944), and "Introduction to Portfolio One" (1948) all in Nathan Lyons, Photographers on Photography (1966). In 1985 Ansel Adams: An Autobiography, written with Mary S. Alinder, was published with 277 illustrations. □

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Adams, Ansel

Ansel Adams, 1902–84, American photographer, b. San Francisco. He began taking photographs in the High Sierra and Yosemite Valley, with which his name is permanently associated, becoming professional in 1930. That year he published the first of many books of his photographs, Taos Pueblo. With Edward Weston and others he founded the Group f/64 in reaction to the painterly photographic aesthetic then current. He specialized in characteristic regional landscape, particularly of the Southwest, and worked to emphasize the conservation of nature. In addition to heroic vistas of the American wilderness, he also made smaller and more intimate images of such landscape elements as trees, rocks, driftwood, and grasses.

Adams wrote numerous technical manuals, including the classic Basic Photo-Books series, and helped to found photographic art departments at New York City's Museum of Modern Art (the first such department) and at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His book Born Free and Equal (1944) was an effort to aid Japanese Americans incarcerated in "relocation camps" during World War II. In 1946 he established the first college department of photography at the California School of Fine Art. Adams also published the first superb portfolio reproductions of his own and others' photographs. His work has become known to a wide audience through the many books, posters, and calendars that have featured his photographs.

See aperture monograph (1972); M. S. Alinder and A. G. Stillman, ed., Ansel Adams: Letters and Images, 1916–1984 (1988); J. Szarkowski, Ansel Adams at 100 (2001).

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Adams, Ansel

Adams, Ansel (1902–84) US photographer. Concentrating on the scenic grandeur of the West, Adams produced magnificent prints, which are widely exhibited. A co-founder of Group f/64, he was instrumental in forming museum and university photographic departments and was a celebrated teacher. He wrote the Basic Photo-Books series of manuals (1968).

http://www.anseladams.com

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