Ansel Adams photographer and artist
Until the 19th century most artwork was created in a two or three-dimensional media. In England, William Fox discovered a technique that allowed camera images to be captured on paper. This medium has evolved since Foxs discovery in 1839 to a serious and viable form of art today. Photography allows the artist to capture what he sees. The image produced is reality to the artists eye, it can only be manipulated with light and angles.
The photograph is a very powerful medium. The French painter Paul Delaroche exclaimed upon seeing an early photograph from now on, painting is dead! (Sayre, 2000). Many critics did not take photography seriously as a legitimate art form until the 20th century. With the advances in technology, the equipment and techniques had evolved to the point that the artist could capture, on paper, the beauty or horrors of their environment. Photography allowed the artist to explore the fourth dimension time (Sayre, 2000). Ansel Adams as an environmental activist brought a greater public awareness to the art of photography.
Ansel Adams grew up in San Francisco where he was born in 1902 and remained an only child. He was interested in the traditional arts of music and painting. Adams also was fascinated with science and even collected insects. (Adams & Alinder, 1985). During a family vacation to the Yosemite Valley when he was fourteen, Adams discovered the beauty of nature and photography. His father gave him a No. 1 Brownie Box camera (Jacobs, 1999) and a photographer was born.
Adams struggled with formal education. He despised the regimentation of the education system and was removed from school by his father when he was fifteen. His father purchased a pass to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition being held in San Francisco and required that Adams spend part of each day there as a substitute for school (Adams & Alinder, 1985). Adams also continued his studies of music and literature at home.
Adams was determined to be a concert pianist. In 1930, after viewing negatives made by East Coast photographer Paul Strand, Adams chose a career in photography (Adams & Alinder, 1985). Adams decision to be a full time photographer changed the photographic visions of the west. He spent his time in National parks photographing the immense beauty of nature in these national treasures.
Adams formed a group with other San Francisco photographers in 1932 called f/64, referring to the smallest aperture opening on a camera lens (Gray, 1994). The group concentrated on form and texture. The group translated scale and detail into organic, sometimes abstract design (Jacobs, 1995).
In 1935, Adams published his first book, Making a Photograph. Six years later, his Zone System was formulated. The Zone System introduced a way for the professional and amateur photographers to determine and control the exposure and development of prints for maximum visual acuity (Jacobs, 1995). The Zone System marked his first efforts at public education on photography.
Adams felt a sense of duty to share his knowledge of nature and photography. Adams was master teacher as well as a master photographer (Schaefer, 1992). He wrote many books and taught students his art. Adams technical ability in the darkroom was magical. He set the standard for black and white printing. His discriminating taste and meticulously produced prints continue to amaze current generations twenty-five years after his death. Adams was an experimenter and a modernist with his camera.
Adams cherished the times he spent on vacation in Yosemite with his family. He spent part of his life teaching others how to capture the panoramic beauty of our national parks. In 1940 he taught his first of many workshops The U.S. Camera Photographic Forum in Yosemite with Edward Weston (Capa, 1986).
As Adams work came to the public eye, his skills and artistic visions were sought by many. Life magazine who gave photographers their first published forum in 1936 (Sayre, 2000) commissioned Adams in 1953 to conduct a photo essay of the Mormons in Utah (Capa, 1986).
Adams was also an activist. He used his influence as an artist to encourage conservation of our natural resources. He was deeply committed to this cause. Adams met with and appealed to presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan to make conservation a high priority. Adams efforts contributed to the Bicentennial Land Heritage Act, proposed by President Ford. It was a $1.5 billion dollar, ten-year commitment to our national parks, recreation areas, and wildlife sanctuaries (Kennerly, 1999).
In 1979 former President Ford and Mrs. Ford sent a letter to President Carter recommending Adams for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nations highest civilian honor. On June 9, 1980 Adams received the award from President Carter. The citation praised Adams as visionary in his effort to preserve this countrys wild and scenic areas, both on film and on Earth (Kennerly, 1999).
The main stream media also honored Adams. On September 3, 1979 Adams was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine commemorating his retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Inside TIME was a collection of some of the greatest works created by Adams. The publisher used a special printing process to reproduce the photographs in their original form (Kennerly, 1999).
Adams spent his life with a camera and a vision. He was a man of great talent, perseverance, and passion. He has been called the direct heir to John Muirs mantle as the emotional and ideological leader of the environmental movement. (Kennerly, 1999). Adams brought the beauty of nature to our homes and the importance of conservation to our conscious.
Adams died in 1984 from heart failure aggravated by cancer. Even after his death, his love of photography and education on environmental issues has made him a lasting figure in our hearts and minds.
Adams, A. & Alinder, M.S. (1985). Ansel Adams: An Autobiography. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Capa, C. (1986). The Encyclopedia of Photography. Retrieved January 23, 2001 from the World Wide Web:
Gray, A. (1994). Ansel Adams: The National Park Service Photographs. New York: Abbeville Press.
Jacobs, M. (1999). Educators Guide: Intimate Nature, Photographs from the Ansel Adams Archive. Retrieved January 23, 2001 from the World Wide Web:
Kennerly, D.H. (1999). Ansel Adams: An American Icon. Retrieved January 23, 2001 from the World Wide Web:
Sayre, H. M. (2000). A World of Art. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
Schaefer, J. P. (1992). An Ansel Adams Guide: Basic Techniques of Photography. New York: Little, Brown and Company.