Renowned photographer and conservationist, Ansel Adams shared his passion for the wilderness through his art. He is famous for the production of some of the most awe-inspiring black-and-white photos of Western American landscapes.
Ansel Adams was born on February 20, 1902 in San Francisco, California. As a young boy, he was home-schooled by his father who submerged him into a world of ancient Greek and music.
By the age of twelve, Adams aspired to a career in music as a concert pianist.
This aspiration remained strong in the young Adams until 1916, when he and his parents took a family trip to Yosemite Park. This introduction to the wilderness quickly ignited a new passion within him. Not only did he fall in love with his surroundings, but he also had the opportunity to use his first camera – a Kodak Box Brownie.
The power to capture the beauty that stood before him in a single photograph seemed a spectacular gift to him, and Adams continued to return to Yosemite Park every year for the rest of his life. His yearly trips to the park included hiking and climbing expeditions, as well as taking photographs (a hobby that he began to study.)
His love of nature prompted him to become affiliated with the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, in 1920.
Adams married Virginia Rose Best on January 2, 1928 in Yosemite.
1931 was an important year in Ansel Adam’s life, as it marked the beginning of his career as a professional photographer. His first show of sixty prints was held at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. In that same year, his work was exhibited a second time at the Smithsonian Institution.
Many more achievements were soon to follow.
In the following year, Adams and several of his prominent colleagues, such as Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, founded Group f/64 (named after a small lens aperture used to increase sharpness and depth.) The goal of Group f/64 was to perfect the photographic vision through achieving flawless prints.
In 1933, Adams opened his own gallery in San Francisco, appropriately named the Ansel Adams Gallery.
Although he was gaining great recognition as a photographer, Adams never forgot about the very thing that inspired him to take his first picture – nature. In 1936, Adams became park ranger for Yosemite Park. In this position he was able to enforce his philosophies of conservation and he was also able to discuss his beliefs with the park’s visitors.
In 1940, the same year that he was assistant founder of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, Ansel Adams developed the Zone System. This discovery is regarded today as one of the major achievements in the history of photography. Essentially, the Zone System is a set of techniques that allows the photographer the greatest possible control over the characteristics of black-and-white film.
During 1944 and1945, Adams lectured and taught courses in photography at the Museum of Modern Art. The establishment of one of the first departments of photography at the California School of Fine Arts in 1946 followed his time spent as a professor.
Ansel Adams’ achievements continued well into the 1960’s as he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1966), and became president of the Friends of Photography (1967).
By the late 1970’s, Adams’ prints were selling to collectors for exorbitant prices that were never equaled by a living American photographer before.
Ansel Adams died on April 22, 1984 of heart failure. Many of his renowned photographs, however, such as Michael and Anne in Yosemite Valley (1941) and Moon and Half Dome (1960), still remain as a testament to his passion for the wilderness.