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February 20, 1902, a photographer was born. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, Ansel Easton Adams was the only child of New England parents, Charles Hitchcock and Olive Adams. Adams’ father was a businessman, whose company included an insurance agency and chemical plant. Ansel took an interest in music at an early age. He selfly taught himself how to play the piano, and he enjoyed being around the surroundings of nature. Ansel attended both public and private school. At home his father gave him lessons in math and French.
In 1915 when Ansel was 13, his father bought him a season pass to the Panama Pacific Worlds Fair, in which he visited annually. Ansel took much interest in the Armory Show exhibition. This exhibition contained modern art that had been first presented in New York City in 1913. There was also a music exhibition that took Ansel’s interest. Ansel took his first photograph in 1916 at age 19, when he and his parents went on a trip to Yosemite National Park. He took his picture with a Kodak Box Brownie camera. His images were of the park, and nature, but his major interest were the High Sierra Mountains. From that time on, Ansel returned to Yosemite National Park every summer. While he was there in 1919, he joined the Sierra Club. The purpose of this club was to explore and protect the wilderness areas of the Sierra Nevada. Ansel eventually worked in the park for four summers as the caretaker of the club’s headquarters. While his time there, Ansel became an expert mountaineer and conservationist. He also gained a lot of experience shifting conditions as a photographer of landscape.
During this time until 1920, photography was just a hobby for Ansel. In 1920 he decided to make music his profession. His plan was to become a concert pianist. Ansel gave piano lessons and concerts until 1927, when he decided to change his career to photography. That same year the publication of his first book of photographs titled Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, was out. Ansel got financial support for his book from an art patron, Albert Bender. In 1930 Ansel published a limited edition portfolio of his photographs, Taos Pueblo. Mary Austin who was a novelist and essayist wrote the text. The early pictures of Ansel’s were in soft-focus, or fashionable pictorial, this was popular at the time. These kinds of pictures imitated the effects of Impressionistic paintings, in which the image was hazy, or looked as if you were looking at it through a mist. This made it look like a painting. In 1932 Ansel helped start a group with other well known photographers of the twentieth century, to rebel against the soft-focus technique when taking pictures. The group was called Group f/64. Their name was symbolizing the small lens opening of the camera. What Ansel wanted were sharp details in his pictures that focused through the smallest aperture in the camera lens, which was f/64. Group f/64 was an informal group that lasted for two years. This group made a big difference for the direction of American photography.
In 1928 Ansel was an official photographer for the Sierra Club at the Jasper National Park in Canada. In 1932, Ansel opened the short-lived Ansel Adams Gallery for photography along with other arts. Ansel lectured and taught to make his living when his gallery was open.
He worked in advertising and began writing articles on photography for magazines. Some magazines he wrote periodicals for were Camera Craft, and Photographers on Photography. Ansel published the first manual on photographic techniques and equipment in 1935. Ansel’s work for the first time, was exhibited in 1936. This was made possible by Alfred Steiglitz, who was a master photographer known as “a discoverer of genius.” The exhibition was at Steiglitz’s New York City Gallery, an American Place. This exhibition made Ansel the first young photographer to be shown by Steiglitz since 1917 with Paul Strand. In 1940 Ansel directed the first show of photography that was ever held in California. It was called “A Pageant of Photography.”
In 1941 Ansel conducted classes at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. Also, during this year Ansel was appointed photo muralist for the department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. He was given an assignment to make large landscapes of monuments and national parks in different regions of America. Ansel lectured at colleges along the west coast, and at the Museum of Modern Art. Ansel was appointed consultant for the Polaroid Corporation in 1949. Here he worked on aesthetic aspects of the Polaroid Land process. In 1958, Ansel received a third guggenheim grant for his creative work. During the late 1940’s, Ansel went on numerous trips to take pictures of all the national parks in the United States. From 1936 to 1970, Ansel was the director of the Sierra Club, which presented him in 1963 with a John Muirn Award. In 1968 he was the recipient of the Conservation Service award of the Interior Department.
In 1969 he was awarded for his photography the Progress Medal of the Photographic Society of America.
Ansel published many portfolios and wrote many books which some include Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trial, Illustrated Guide to Yosemite Valley, Michael and Annie in the Yosemite Valley, Yosemite and the High Sierra, My Camera in Yosemite Valley, Camera and Lens, The Negative, The Print, Natural Light Photography, Born Free and Equal, Death Valley, and Mission San Xavier del Bac, are just a few of his portfolios and books.
Ansel Adams was clear with his concept of art and photography. He believed that art was the affirmation of life and the concept of equivalents in photography. In other words, Ansel believed that when a photographer takes a picture he is showing how he or she feels about that subject. Something like a personal statement. Ansel had two children, Michael Adams, who was a physician, and a daughter, Anne. His wife was Virginia Adams. Ansel Adams died in 1984. His photographs are known and Ansel Easton Adams will always be known as one of the finest technicians in the history of photography.
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