Ansel Adams : biography
Ansel Easton Adams (February 20, 1902 – April 22, 1984) was an American photographer and environmentalist best known for his black-and-white landscape photographs of the American West, especially of Yosemite National Park.
With Fred Archer, Adams developed the Zone System as a way to determine proper exposure and adjust the contrast of the final print. The resulting clarity and depth characterized his photographs and the work of those to whom he taught the system. Adams primarily used large-format cameras despite their size, weight, setup time, and film cost, because their high resolution helped ensure sharpness in his images.
Adams founded the Group f/64 along with fellow photographers Willard Van Dyke and Edward Weston. Adams’s photographs are reproduced on calendars, posters, and in books, making his photographs widely distributed.
Contributions and influence
Romantic landscape artists Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran portrayed the Grand Canyon and Yosemite at the end of their reign, and were subsequently displaced by daredevil photographers Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, and George Fiske. But it was Adams’s black-and-white photographs of the West which became the foremost record of what many of the National Parks were like before tourism, and his persistent advocacy helped expand the National Park system. He skillfully used his works to promote many of the goals of the Sierra Club and of the nascent environmental movement, but always insisted that, as far as his photographs were concerned, "beauty comes first". His stirring images are still very popular in calendars, posters, and books.
Realistic about development and the subsequent loss of habitat, Adams advocated for balanced growth, but was pained by the ravages of "progress". He stated, "We all know the tragedy of the dustbowls, the cruel unforgivable erosions of the soil, the depletion of fish or game, and the shrinking of the noble forests. And we know that such catastrophes shrivel the spirit of the people… The wilderness is pushed back, man is everywhere. Solitude, so vital to the individual man, is almost nowhere."
While in Yosemite, he had frequent contact with the Best family, owners of Best’s Studio, who allowed him to practice on their old square piano. In 1928, Ansel Adams married Virginia Best in Best’s Studio in Yosemite Valley. Virginia inherited the studio from her artist father on his death in 1935, and the Adams continued to operate the studio until 1971. The studio, now known as the Ansel Adams Gallery, remains in the hands of the Adams family.
At age 17, Adams joined the Sierra Club, a group dedicated to preserving the natural world’s wonders and resources, and he was hired as the summer caretaker of the Sierra Club visitor center in Yosemite Valley, the LeConte Memorial Lodge from 1920 to 1924. He remained a member throughout his lifetime and served as a director, as did his wife. He was first elected to the Sierra Club’s board of directors in 1934, and served on the board for 37 years, until 1971. Adams participated in the club’s annual High Trips, and was later responsible for several first ascents in the Sierra Nevada.
During 1919, he contracted the Spanish Flu during the 1918 flu pandemic. Adams fell seriously ill but recovered after several months to resume his outdoor life.
During his twenties, most of his friends came from musical connections, particularly violinist and amateur photographer Cedric Wright, who became his best friend as well as his philosophical and cultural mentor. Their shared philosophy came from Edward Carpenter’s Towards Democracy, a literary work which espoused the pursuit of beauty in life and art. Carpenter was an English socialist philosopher and gay activist. For several years, Adams carried a pocket edition with him while at Yosemite. It soon became his personal philosophy as well, as Adams later stated, "I believe in beauty. I believe in stones and water, air and soil, people and their future and their fate." He decided that the purpose of his art from now on, whether photography or music, was to reveal that beauty to others and to inspire them to the same calling.