Ansel Adams Biography
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Ansel Easton Adams (February 20, 1902-April 22, 1984) was an
American photographer born in San Francisco.
Famous for his black & white landscape photographs of the national
parks (Yosemite National Park among others), and as an author
of numerous books about photography, including his trilogy of
technical instruction manuals (The Camera, The Negative and The
Print). He co-founded the photographic association Group f/64
along with other masters like Edward Weston, Willard Van Dyke,
Imogen Cunningham and others.
He invented the zone system, a technique which allows photographers
to translate the light they see into specific densities on negatives
and paper, thus giving them better control over finished photographs.
Adams also pioneered the idea of visualization (which he often
called 'previsualization', though he later acknowledged that term
to be a redundancy) of the finished print based upon the measured
light values in the scene being photographed.
Adams disliked the uniformity of the education system and left
school in 1915 to educate himself. He originally trained himself
as a pianist, but at age fourteen was given a camera as a gift
while visiting Yosemite National Park. He later met his future
wife there, Virginia Best. Adams long alternated between a career
as a concert pianist and one as a photographer.
At age 17 Adams joined the Sierra Club, a group dedicated to
preserving the natural world's wonders and resources. He remained
a member thorughout his lifetime and served as a director, as
did his wife, Virginia. Adams was an avid mountaineer in his youth
and participated in the club's annual "high trips", and was later
responsible for several first ascents in the Sierra Nevada. It
was at Half Dome in 1927 that he first found that he could make
photographs that were, in his own words, "...an austere and blazing
poetry of the real". Adams became an environmentalist, and his
photographs are a record of what many of these national parks
were like before human intervention and travel. His work has promoted
many of the goals of the Sierra Club and brought environmental
issues to light.
Photographs in Adams' limited edition book, Sierra Nevada: The
John Muir Trail, along with his testimony, are credited with helping
secure the designation of Sequoia and Kings Canyon as national
parks in 1940.
During World War Two Adams worked on creating epic photographic
murals for the Department of the Interior. Adams was distressed
by the Japanese American Internment that occurred after the Pearl
Harbor attack. He was given permission to visit the Manzanar War
Relocation Center in the Owens Valley, at the foot of Mount Williamson.
The resulting photo-essay first appeared in a Museum of Modern
Art exhibit, and later was published as Born Free and Equal: Photographs
of the loyal Japanese-Americans at Manzanar Relocation Center,
Inyo County, California.
Adams was the recipient of three Guggenheim fellowships during
his career. He was elected in 1966 a Fellow of the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences. In 1980 Jimmy Carter awarded him the Presidential
Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
Publishing rights for the Adams' photographs are handled by the
trustees of The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.
The Minarets Wilderness in the Inyo National Forest was renamed
the Ansel Adams Wilderness in 1984 in his honor. Mount Ansel Adams,
a 11,760' peak in the Sierra Nevada, was named for him in 1985.
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