Born on February 20, 1902 in San Francisco, California, Ansel Easton Adams was a gifted photographer and an environmental activist. His iconic black-and-white landscape images of American West and Yosemite National Park made a mark in conservation of wilderness areas and establishment of photography in fine arts. Adams was an American photographer whose photography work is a living legend, widely reproduced on calendars, books and posters.

Adams’s photographs were characterized by clarity and depth. They were primarily taken using large-format cameras using a Zone System that Adams developed with Fred Archer. The Zone System provided a way of adjusting the contrast and determining proper exposure for the final print. The end results were high resolution photographs with clarity, depth and sharpness that characterized Adams images.

Ansel Adams Early Life

Adams’s family migrated from Ireland in the early 1700s to New England where his grandfather founded a successful lumber business. His father eventually inherited the lumber business but Adams would later condemn the lumber industry for depleting the redwood forests. Injured as a young child in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 where his nose remained crooked for the rest of his life, Adams child life was hyperactive with few friends.
Severally, he was dismissed from school due to bad behaviour. Eventually, he would be educated by members of his family and private tutors by the age of twelve years. Adams early passion as a child was the piano which he taught himself but a trip Yosemite National Park prompted him to begin experimenting with photography. Slowly, he started learning darkroom techniques by attending camera club meetings, photography and art exhibitions and reading photography magazines.

Ansel Adams Photography Career

Adams early photography work was sold at Best’s Studio in Yosemite Valley. He married Virginia Best, the daughter of the Best’s Studio owner in 1928 and together they would later inherit the Studio in 1935, now known as the Ansel Adams Gallery. It was Adams’s first photography portfolio; Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, that defined his photography style earning him promotion and sponsorship from Albert Bender, an arts-connected businessman.

Adams’s first professional portfolio, which also included one of his most famous images, “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome” was a success. He earned from commercial assignments and by 1930, Adams had built a reputation in photography and arts. He focused on large forms and detailed close-ups, spending much time in New Mexico with photography artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand.

With photographers Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, Adams began using art for social and political change. He advocated for protection of wilderness areas which included the Yosemite and using photo essays on wartime injustices during World War II. His re-interpreted image; “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” which was taken in 1941 just before the Pearl Harbour attack and reproduced in over a 1000 unique prints helped Adams to achieve financial stability.

The appreciation of photography as an art had expanded by 1960 and Adams photography and art work was exhibited in large galleries and museums. In 1966 Adams was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour, by Jimmy Carter in 1980. Adams spent much of his time supplying demand for his iconic works until April 22, 1984 when he died from cardiovascular disease aged 82. The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust now handles publishing and copyrights for most of Adams’s photographs.