(Feb. 20 1902 — Apr. 22, 1984)
was a renowned American photographer and environmentalist. Although his initial ambition was to become a pianist, he was equally passionate about photography and it was only in the middle of his twenties that he realized that he would make a better photographer than a musician. By that time he had become a member of the Sierra Club and had started hiking with them, developing a keen interest in its conservation. His journey as photographer was long and tough and for a long period, he had to sustain himself by accepting commercial assignments. But his genius was apparent from the beginning and his very first portfolio was highly appreciated by all. Later, he started working for the conservation of what was left of the wilderness in the American West. He not only fought to restrict use of national park areas, but also fought to create new parks and wildernesses. Protection of redwood forests, sea lions and sea otters was also close to his heart.
Initiation into Photography
It was during this visit that Ansel Adams took his first shot with his new Kodak Brownie Box camera. It highly fascinated him. In 1917, he returned alone to the National Park; this time equipped with a better camera and tripod.
The visit intensified his interest in photography.
On his return, he began to work part time for a San Francisco photo finisher just to learn the basics of darkroom technique. He also began reading photography magazines, attending camera clubs as well as photography exhibitions.
Eventually, he started exploring the Sierra Nevada mountain range with an amateur ornithologist. Through this, he began to develop the skill necessary for photographing under difficult weather conditions.
In 1919, he joined the Sierra Club, an organization devoted for protecting the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. Thereafter from 1920 to 1924, he worked as the summer caretaker of its visitor center in Yosemite Valley. He also took part in the club’s high altitude treks.
In 1922, he had his first photograph published in the club’s bulletin. While it showed careful composition, music still remained his main focus. Therefore, while he spent the summer months hiking and photographing in the Sierra Nevada, the rest of the year was spent in improving his piano techniques.
Over the time, he became more involved with the conservation programs of the Sierra Club. From the middle of the 1920s, he also started experimenting with soft-focus, etching, bromoil process, and other techniques. Yet, music remained the goal of his life.
Photography as Career Option
From the late 1920s, Ansel Adams started having doubts about his musical acumen and decided to take up photography as his career option. In 1927, he produced his first portfolio, titled ‘Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras’.
Containing 18 silver gelatin photographic prints, the portfolio was an instant hit. He not only earned $3900 from it, but also started getting commercial assignments. Concurrently, he continued to improve his techniques and in 1928 he had his first one-man exhibition at the club’s San Francisco headquarters.
In the spring of 1929, Adams traveled to Mexico, staying there for two months. The shots he took there were published in a book form titled ‘Taos Pueblo’. Published in 1930, it had text written by nature writer Mary Hunter Austin and marked his transition from pictorial style to sharp-focused images.
In 1931, Adams had his first solo exhibition at Smithsonian Institution, which earned fantastic reviews from the ‘Washington Post.’ In the following year, he had a group show with Imogen Cunningham and Edward Henry Weston at the M. H. de Young Museum. The success of the show prompted them to form Group f/64
In 1933, Adams opened the Ansel Adams Gallery for the Arts in San Francisco. Concurrently, he continued to visit Sierra Nevada, taking photos, among which, ‘Clearing Winter Storm’ (1935) being one of his most well-known works.
In 1936, he held a successful solo show at ‘An American Place’ gallery in New York, where he put up his recent works on Sierra Nevada, earning praise both from critics and buyers.
Personal Life & Legac
In the early 1920s, while on a trip to Yosemite National Park, Ansel Adams met Virginia Best, whose father owned the Best’s Studio in the Park. They got married in the same studio in 1928. They had two children, Michael born in 1933 and Anne born in 1935
On April 22, 1984, Adams died from cardiovascular disease at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, California. He was then 82 years old. He was survived his wife, two children and five grandchildren.In 1985, the Minarets Wilderness in the Inyo National Forest was renamed as Ansel Adams Wilderness. Moreover, an 11,760-foot high peak, located within the Wilderness was named Mount Ansel Adams.
The Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography, established in 1971 by Sierra Club and Ansel Adams Award for Conservation established in 1980 by the Wilderness Society continues to carry his legacy.
In 2007, Adams was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.