Ansel Adams


Ansel Adams : biography

February 20, 1902 – April 22, 1984

In 1949 Adams approached his close friend Edward Weston and asked his assistant Dody Weston Thompson to assist him for the year during his photographic expedition in Yosemite National Park and then at his studio in San Francisco.


In 1952 Adams was one of the founders of the magazine Aperture, which was intended as a serious journal of photography showcasing its best practitioners and newest innovations. He was also a contributor to Arizona Highways, a photo-rich travel magazine which continues today. His article on Mission San Xavier del Bac, with text by longtime friend Nancy Newhall, was enlarged into a book published in 1954. This was the first of many collaborations with her. In June 1955, Adams began his annual workshops, teaching thousands of students until 1981, He continued with commercial assignments for another twenty years, and became a consultant on a monthly retainer for Polaroid Corporation, which was founded by good friend Edwin Land. He made thousands of photographs with Polaroid products, El Capitan, Winter, Sunrise (1968) being the one he considered his most memorable. In the final twenty years of his life, the Hasselblad was his camera of choice, with Moon and Half Dome (1960) being his favorite photo made with that brand of camera.

Adams published his fourth portfolio, What Majestic Word, in 1963, and dedicated it to the memory of his Sierra Club friend Russell Varian,A. Hammond, p. 108 who was a co-inventor of the klystron and who had died in 1959. The title was taken from the poem "Sand Dunes," by John Varian, Russell’s father, and the fifteen photographs were accompanied by the writings of both John and Russell Varian. Russell’s widow, Dorothy, wrote the preface, and explained that the photographs were selected to serve as interpretations of the character of Russell Varian.

Later career

In the 1960s, a few mainstream art galleries (without a photographic emphasis) which originally would have considered photos unworthy of exhibit alongside fine paintings decided to show Adams’s images, particularly the former Kenmore Gallery in Philadelphia. 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, titled Fiat Lux after the University’s motto, was published in 1967 and now resides in the Museum of Photography at the University of California, Riverside.

In 1974, Adams is guest of honour at the Rencontres d’Arles festival (France). An evening screening at the Arles’s Théâtre Antique and an exhibition were presented. The festival celebrated the artist three more times after that: in 1976, 1982 and 1985 through screening and exhibition.

In 1974, Adams had a major retrospective exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Much of his time during the 1970s was spent curating and re-printing negatives from his vault, in part to satisfy the great demand of art museums which had finally created departments of photography and desired his iconic works. He also devoted his considerable writing skills and prestige to the cause of environmentalism, focusing particularly on the Big Sur coastline of California and the protection of Yosemite from over-use. President Jimmy Carter commissioned Adams to make the first official portrait of a president made by a photograph.

One of Adams’ ten Museum Sets of Photographs was donated to the College of New Rochelle in 2012.

Death and legacy

In September 1983, Adams was confined to his bed for four weeks after leg surgery to remove a tumor. Adams died on April 22, 1984, in the ICU at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, California, at the age of 82 from cardiovascular disease. He was survived by his wife, two children (Michael, born August 1933, and Anne, born 1935) and five grandchildren.