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Ansel Adams was an American photographer and a renowned environmentalist. Read this brief biography to know more about his life.

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams

Famous as: Photographer, Environmentalist

Nationality: American    Famous American Men

Born on: 20 February 1902    20th February Birthdays

Zodiac Sign: Pisces    Pisces Men

Born in: San Francisco

Died on: 22 April 1984

place of death: Monterey, California

father: Charles Hitchcock Adams

mother: Olive Bray Adams

Spouse: Virginia Rose Best

children: Michael, Anne

education: Private school, Harvard University

Founder/Co-Founder: Group f/64

awards: 1968 - Conservation Service Award
1980 - Presidential Medal of Freedom
1963 - Sierra Club John Muir Award
1981 - Hasselblad Award


Cite This

Ansel Adams was an American photographer who is widely known for his modern day representations that are made on calendars, posters, and in books. He is best remembered as a prominent figure in black and white photography. Adams was a great environmentalist too. The multi-dimensional genius in Adams made him develop the Zone System which determines proper exposure and adjusts the contrast of the final print. Adams was a guiding light in developing the field of photography with his teachings and practices of resolution, clarity and the importance of sharpness in images. Adams was a great lover of large-format cameras which were considered trouble because of their sizes, weights, setup time, and film cost but their high resolution helped ensure sharpness in his images. Adams is also greatly known for being the founder of Group f/64 which was a group of seven 20th century San Francisco photographers sharing photographic style characterized by sharp-focused and carefully framed images seen through a particularly Western (U.S.) viewpoint. Adams' photographs are widely distributed around the world even today.

Ansel Adams Childhood
 
Ansel Adams was born on 20 February 1902 in San Francisco, California to parents Charles Hitchcock Adams and Olive Bray Adams who were of an affluent family. Adams got his name from his uncle Ansel Easton. The Adams family originally hailed from New England and migrated from the north of Ireland in the early 18th century. Adams’ grandfather had set up a prosperous lumber business which his father continued upon but when it was Adams’ time to take up the family business he condemned the idea of cutting down redwood forests and declined to take up the job.
 
In 1903 Adams’ family moved to the Seacliff neighborhood and the new house was set in a beautiful landscape view of the Golden Gate and the Marin Headlands. However disaster arose for the family when San Francisco was ripped apart by the 18 April 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Adams was just 4 years old when he witnessed an aftershock that threw him face down breaking his nose. Doctors stated that he would have a normal nose as he grew up which never happened.
 
Adams frequently fell ill as a child. He did not have too many friends and was an impatient kid who was always curious and interested about nature from a very early age. With the Panic of 1907 (a banking crises that attacked America) and the death of his grandfather Adams’ father ran losses in the family business which led to great financial changes in the family. By 1912 his family had lost their affluent standard of living. Adams was an inattentive and a restless kid which resulted in him being thrown out of several private schools. He received his further education from his Aunt Mary and father who private tutored him. He was pulled out of school at the age of 15 by his father. Soon Adams resumed his formal education and was enrolled at the Mrs. Kate M. Wilkins Private School from where he graduated from eighth grade on 8 June 1917. Adams shared a warm relation with his father but had an uncomfortable bonding with his mother who disapproved of his photographic interest.
 
Adams learnt piano all by himself at the age of 12. He focused on music in the later years of his youth.
 
Youth
 
Adams decided to make piano as his career. He learnt reading music and playing music quite naturally and by 1920 he made piano his primary occupation. He visited Yosemite National Park for the first time with his family in 1916 of which he wrote, the splendor of Yosemite burst upon us and it was glorious... One wonder after another descended upon us... There was light everywhere... A new era began for me.” His father gifted Adams his first camera, a Kodak Brownie box camera with which Adams captured all his moments and landscape views at Yosemite.
 
In 1917 Adams paid his second visit to Yosemite. This time he came equipped with better cameras and a tripod. He utilized the winter in learning basic darkroom techniques by working as a part-timer for a San Francisco photo finisher. Adams read several photography magazines and attended many camera club meetings besides going for photography and art exhibits.
 
Adams was attacked by the Spanish Flu during the 1918 flu pandemic in 1919 which made him fall seriously ill and take several months to recover from. Adams had friends who were mostly musicians or had musical interests and connections. His best friend Cedric Wright was a violinist and amateur photographer. Adams enjoyed philosophies like Edward Carpenter's Towards Democracy, a literary work which espoused the pursuit of beauty in life and art. His own philosophy was later stated by him as, “"I believe in beauty. I believe in stones and water, air and soil, people and their future and their fate”. Adams engaged himself in hiking, camping, photographing and improving his piano playing skill. He played piano and learnt the greater techniques and musical expression in the later years. He also gave piano lessons to earn some extra money with which he bought a grand piano suitable to his musical ambitions.
 
Career
 
In 1921 his first photographs got published. In 1922 Best's Studio started selling Adams’ Yosemite prints. His early photographs reflected careful composition and sensitivity to tonal balance. It was during this while that Adams was still interested to make a career in music. After several more years he finally decided to become a concert pianist of limited range, an accompanist, or a piano teacher after struggling with bruises in hands.
 
In the mid 1920s Adams experimented with soft-focus, etching, Bromoil Process, and on certain other photographic techniques of the pictorial photographers, such as Photo-Secession leader Alfred Stieglitz who was known for bringing photography on an equal artistic plane with painting by trying to mimic it. Adams was innovative in his approach as he did not use hand-coloring which was popular at the time. He used various types of lenses in order to attain different effects, but eventually rejected ‘pictorialism’ and took up a better realistic approach that relied more heavily on sharp focus, heightened contrast, precise exposure, and darkroom craftsmanship.
 
In 1927 Adams made his first portfolio “Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras” in his very own new style which included his famous image “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome” which he captured with his Korona view camera using glass plates and a dark red filter (to heighten the tonal contrasts). In April 1927 he wrote “My photographs have now reached a stage when they are worthy of the world's critical examination. I have suddenly come upon a new style which I believe will place my work equal to anything of its kind” reflecting his inner confidence on his photographic excellence. Adams’ first portfolio was sponsored and promoted by Albert Bender, an arts-connected businessman making Adams become successful and earning him something like $3,900. Soon Adams was contacted for commercial assignments to photograph the wealthy patrons who bought his portfolio. Adams photos were carefully touched and crafted which made him realize the importance of reproducing a photograph properly. Albert Bender invited Adams to join the prestigious Roxburghe Club where Adams learnt fine printing and high standards in book arts which included printing techniques, inks, design, and layout which he applied in his later projects. Adams had insufficient equipments and had no proper darkroom.
 
Between 1929 and 1942, Adams's matured and excelled in his work to become more established. In the 1930s Adams produced and experimented with his works the most. His works included everything from detailed close-ups, mountains to factories. In 1930 Adams’ second portfolio ‘Taos Pueblo’ was published (accompanied by text) by writer Mary Hunter Austin. Adams got introduced to Stieglitz's circle in New Mexico which included painter Georgia O'Keeffe, artist John Marin, and photographer Paul Strand, all of whom created famous works during their stays in the Southwest. Adams was a great talker which combined with his excellent piano playing skills to make him earn great many elite friends.
 
In 1931 Adams was able to put up his first solo museum exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution with the help of his friends and Washington connections. This exhibition included 60 prints taken by Adams in the High Sierra. Adams received great appreciations which include an excellent review from the Washington Post, “His photographs are like portraits of the giant peaks, which seem to be inhabited by mythical gods”. Adams was not satisfied with himself and he wanted to emulate Paul Strand. He thought of broadening his subject matter to include still life and close-up photos in order to attain higher quality by "visualizing" each image before taking it. He started stressing on the use of small apertures and long exposures in natural light, which created sharp details with a wide range of focus. In 1932 Adams participated in a group show at the M. H. de Young Museum with Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston and they soon formed Group f/64, which followed "pure or straight photography" over pictorialism (f/64 being a very small aperture setting that gives great depth of field). The group's manifesto stated, “Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form”.
 
In 1933 Adams opened his very own art and photography gallery in San Francisco (founded on Stieglitz's examples) which went on to become Danysh Gallery as Adams could not continue with his commitments due to his other works and engagements. In 1933 Adams brought out his ‘Rose and Driftwood’ which is regarded as the finest ever still photographs portfolio done by him.
 
Adams started writing essays in photography magazines. In the 1930s he used his photography in creating awareness for wilderness preservation. He was greatly disturbed by the increasing cutting down and de-charming of Yosemite Valley by commercial development, including a pool hall, bowling alley, golf course, shops, and automobile traffic. In 1935 he wrote his first instructional book ‘Making a Photograph’. His efforts in nature and environmental awareness are noteworthy. In 1935 he took new photos of the Sierra which include one of his most famous photographs, “Clearing Winter Storm” that captured the entire valley just as a winter storm relented, leaving a fresh coat of snow.
 
In 1936 Adams made a collection of al his recent works and organized a solo show which was named "An American Place" and held at the Stieglitz gallery in New York. In the 1930s Adams also did several commercial assignments to supplement the income from the struggling Best's Studio. His clients include names like Kodak, Fortune magazine, Pacific Gas and Electric, AT&T, and the American Trust Company.
 
 
 
Growth
 
In 1938 he created a limited-edition book “Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail” which was introduced as part of the Sierra Club's efforts to secure the designation of Sequoia and Kings Canyon as national parks.
 
In 1939 Adams was made the editor of ‘U.S. Camera’ which was the most popular photography magazine at that time. In 1940 Ansel organized ‘A Pageant of Photography’ which is regarded as a very important and largest photography show in the West till today which was visited by millions of enthusiasts. During 1940-1941 Ansel completed (with the help of his wife) the very successful children’s book, “Illustrated Guide to Yosemite Valley”. Adams gave several photography workshops in Detroit and his pupils included future photographer Todd Webb. In 1941 Adams started teaching at the Art Center School of Los Angeles, which included the training of military photographers.
 
In 1941 Adams went on a trip to New Mexico just weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack where he shot his most famous photograph “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” which was a scene of the Moon rising above a modest village with snow-covered mountains in the background, under a dominating black sky. The photograph got more famous with Adams’ description in his later books of how it was made. In 1943 Moonrise was first published on ‘U.S. Camera’. In 1944 Moonrise had its first formal exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Several prints of the photo were made in the 1970s. The total value of these original prints exceeds $25,000,000 which is the highest price paid for a single print. It reached $609,600 at Sotheby's New York auction in 2006.
 
In September 1941 he went into a contract with the Department of the Interior to use photographs of National Parks, Indian reservations, and other locations into making mural-sized prints for decoration of the Department's new building. In 1945 Adams was invited to form the first fine art photography department at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) and he asked Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston to be guest lecturers and Minor White to be the lead instructor. The department produced great many future notable photographers. In 1946 he received the first of three Guggenheim fellowships to photograph every National Park.
 
In 1952 Adams co-founded the magazine Aperture, which was quest for a serious journal of photography showcasing its best practitioners and newest innovations. In 1954 his article on ‘Mission San Xavier del Bac’, with text by longtime friend Nancy Newhall, was enlarged into a book. In June 1955, Adams began his annual workshops and also taught thousands of students until 1981.
 
Adams published his fourth portfolio, ‘What Majestic Word’ in 1963. In the 1960s Adams’ images were showcased in several mainstream art galleries. In March 1963 Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall accepted a commission from Clark Kerr, the President of the University of California, to produce a series of photographs of the University's campuses to commemorate its centennial celebration. The collection which was titled ‘Fiat Lux’ after the University's motto was published in 1967 which is currently housed in the Museum of Photography at the University of California, Riverside.
 
In 1974 Adams brought out one of his major retrospective exhibition at the ‘Metropolitan Museum of Art’. In the 1970s he spent most of his time curating and re-printing negatives from his vault to supply to art museums and also use in the creation of his departments of photography.
 
 
Personal Life
 
In 1928, Ansel Adams married Virginia Best in Best's Studio in Yosemite Valley. He had several on and off relationships with various women many of whom were his students.
 
During 1933 Adams’ first child Michael was born who was followed by Anne, born two years later.
 
Works
 
Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park - 1927
Rose and Driftwood, San Francisco, California - 1932
Georgia O'Keeffe and Orville Cox, Canyon de Chelly National Monument - 1937
Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park - 1940
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico - 1941
Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, California - 1944
Aspens, Northern New Mexico - 1958
Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California - 1960
El Capitan, Winter, Sunrise – 1968
 
Awards
 
Adams has won several awards during his lifetime and posthumously. He received a Doctor of Arts from both Harvard and Yale universities. In 1963 he received the Sierra Club John Muir Award. He got elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1966. He was awarded the Conservation Service Award by the Department of Interior in 1968. In 1980 he received a Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2007 Adams was inducted into the California Hall of Fame by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the First Lady Maria Shriver.
 
Death
 
In September 1983 Adams became confined to the bed for 4 weeks due to a leg surgery to remove a cancer. He died on 22 April 1984.

ANSEL ADAMS TIMELINE

1902:

Ansel Adams was born on 20 February in San Francisco, California

1903:

Adams’ family moved to the Seacliff neighborhood and the new house was set in a beautiful landscape view of the Golden Gate and the Marin Headlands

1906:

San Francisco was ripped apart by the 18th April San Francisco earthquake. Adams was just 4 years old when he witnessed an aftershock that threw him face down breaking his nose

1907:

Panic of 1907 (a banking crises that attacked America) and the death of his grandfather Adams’ father ran losses in the family business which led to great financial changes in the family

1912:

– By this time his family had lost their affluent standard of living

1916:

He visited Yosemite National Park for the first time with his family where his father gifted Adams his first camera, a Kodak Brownie box camera with which Adams captured all his moments and landscape views at Yosemite

1917:

Adams resumed his formal education and was enrolled at the Mrs. Kate M. Wilkins Private School from where he graduated from eighth grade on 8 June

1917:

Adams paid his second visit to Yosemite. This time he came equipped with better cameras and a tripod

1919:

Adams was attacked by the Spanish Flu during the 1918 flu pandemic which made him fall seriously ill and take several months to recover from

1920:

Adams decided to make piano as his career. He learnt reading music and playing music quite naturally and by 1920 he made piano his primary occupation

1921:

His first photographs got published.

1922:

Best's Studio started selling Adams’ Yosemite prints

1920:

In the mid 1920s Adams experimented with soft-focus, etching, Bromoil Process, and on certain other photographic techniques of the pictorial photographers, such as Photo-Secession leader Alfred Stieglitz who was known for bringing photography on an equal artistic plane with painting by trying to mimic it

1927:

Adams made his first portfolio “Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras” in his very own new style which included his famous image “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome” which he captured with his Korona view camera using glass plates and a dark red filter (to heighten the tonal contrasts)

1927:

In April he wrote “My photographs have now reached a stage when they are worthy of the world's critical examination. I have suddenly come upon a new style which I believe will place my work equal to anything of its kind” reflecting his inner confidence on his photographic excellence

1928 :

Ansel Adams married Virginia Best in Best's Studio in Yosemite Valley

1930:

Adams’ second portfolio ‘Taos Pueblo’ was published (accompanied by text) by writer Mary Hunter Austin

1930:

s He used his photography in creating awareness for wilderness preservation. He was greatly disturbed by the increasing cutting down and de-charming of Yosemite Valley by commercial development, including a pool hall, bowling alley, golf course, shops, and automobile traffic

1930:

In the 1930s Adams also did several commercial assignments to supplement the income from the struggling Best's Studio. His clients include names like Kodak, Fortune magazine, Pacific Gas and Electric, AT&T, and the American Trust Company

1931:

Adams was able to put up his first solo museum exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution with the help of his friends and Washington connections. This exhibition included 60 prints taken by Adams in the High Sierra

1932:

Adams participated in a group show at the M. H. de Young Museum with Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston and they soon formed Group f/64, which followed "pure or straight photography" over pictorialism (f/64 being a very small aperture setting that gives great depth of field). The group's manifesto stated, “Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form”

1933:

Adams opened his very own art and photography gallery in San Francisco

1933:

During this time Adams’ first child Michael was born who was followed by Anne, born two years later

1935:

He wrote his first instructional book ‘Making a Photograph’. His efforts in nature and environmental awareness are noteworthy

1935:

He took new photos of the Sierra which include one of his most famous photographs, “Clearing Winter Storm” that captured the entire valley just as a winter storm relented, leaving a fresh coat of snow

1936:

Adams made a collection of al his recent works and organized a solo show which was named "An American Place" and held at the Stieglitz gallery in New York

1938:

- He created a limited-edition book “Sierra NevadaThe John Muir Trail” which was introduced as part of the Sierra Club's efforts to secure the designation of Sequoia and Kings Canyon as national parks

1939:

Adams was made the editor of ‘U.S. Camera’ which was the most popular photography magazine at that time

1940:

Ansel organized ‘A Pageant of Photography’ which is regarded as a very important and largest photography show in the West till today which was visited by millions of enthusiasts

1940-1941:

– During this time Ansel completed (with the help of his wife) the very successful children’s book, “Illustrated Guide to Yosemite Valley”

1941:

Adams started teaching at the Art Center School of Los Angeles, which included the training of military photographers

1941:

Adams went on a trip to New Mexico just weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack where he shot his most famous photograph “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” which was a scene of the Moon rising above a modest village with snow-covered mountains in the background, under a dominating black sky. The photograph got more famous with Adams’ description in his later books of how it was made

1941:

– In September, he went into a contract with the Department of the Interior to use photographs of National Parks, Indian reservations, and other locations into making mural-sized prints for decoration of the Department's new building

1943:

Moonrise was first published on ‘U.S. Camera’

1944:

Moonrise had its first formal exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art

1945:

Adams was invited to form the first fine art photography department at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) and he asked Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston to be guest lecturers and Minor White to be the lead instructor. The department produced great many future notable photographers

1946:

He received the first of three Guggenheim fellowships to photograph every National Park

1952:

Adams co-founded the magazine Aperture, which was quest for a serious journal of photography showcasing its best practitioners and newest innovations

1954:

His article on ‘Mission San Xavier del Bac’, with text by longtime friend Nancy Newhall, was enlarged into a book and published

1955:

In June, Adams began his annual workshops and also taught thousands of students until 1981

1963:

Adams published his fourth portfolio, ‘What Majestic Word’

1963:

He received the Sierra Club John Muir Award

1963:

In March Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall accepted a commission from Clark Kerr, the President of the University of California, to produce a series of photographs of the University's campuses to commemorate its centennial celebration

1966:

He got elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1967:

The collection which was titled ‘Fiat Lux’ after the University's motto was published which is currently housed in the Museum of Photography at the University of California, Riverside

1968:

He was awarded the Conservation Service Award by the Department of Interior

1970:

s He spent most of his time curating and re-printing negatives from his vault to supply to art museums and also use in the creation of his departments of photography

1974:

Adams brought out one of his major retrospective exhibition at the ‘Metropolitan Museum of Art’

1980:

He received a Presidential Medal of Freedom

1983:

In September Adams became confined to the bed for 4 weeks due to a leg surgery to remove a cancer

1984:

He died on 22 April

Pictures of Ansel Adams