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Friday, January 28, 2011

Ansel Adams (1902-1984)

Ansel Adams is very likely the single most recognized photographer by name. A combination of timing and location led to his fame. In the early nineteenth century travel took much longer than today so Adams’ sweeping views of the stunning Western United States landscapes were unprecedented views to the vast majority of Americans.

Ansel Adams was born February 20, 1902 in San Francisco, California (Turnage, n.d.). Adams parents, Charles Hitchcock Adams and Olive Bray were around forty years old when Adams was born (very old for the times) (Turnage, n.d.). By the time Adams was 12, he obviously did not “fit in” at school and Adams’ father took the bold step of bringing the boy home for homeschooling (Deyo, 2002). Beyond English literature and algebra, Adams also studied the piano and spent a full year exploring the Panama-Pacific International Exposition which was a collection of exhibits based around the opening of the Panama Canal (Deyo, 2002).

The Photographer Emerges
In 1916 the Adams family took a trip to Yosemite National Park during which young Ansel was given a Kodak Brownie (Deyo, 2002). A few years later, in 1919, Adams joined the Sierra Club which was later responsible for the his first published works. Like many photographers today, Adams had his first published work in a club newsletter (Turnage, n.d.). It was Sierra Club trips during which Adams began to realize that photography instead of music was a possible career (Turnage, n.d.). In 1932 Adams joined photographers, Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Henry Swift, Sonya Noskowiak, and Jon Paul Edwards in starting the photographic group f/64 (Hostetler, 2004). This group was dedicated to photography that looked like photography and showed the world without glossing over bits and pieces of it (Hostetler, 2004). The name f/64 came from the theoretical smallest aperture possible on a camera lens that allowed for the largest depth of field to show as much of an image as possible in sharp focus.

Body of Works
While Adams is probably best known for his images of the Sierra Nevadas and Yosemite he had a much wider body of work. Working with Dorothea Lange, Adams created various image sets for Time Magazine and others (Deyo, 2002). The subjects of these images were diverse as water rights struggles to the Mormons of Utah (Deyo, 2002). Adams also recorded the Japanese American interment camps from World War II (zpub, n.d.).

Technical Photography
In addition to the photographs themselves, Adams contributed to the growing field of photography in his development of the “zone system” relating to exposure and development (Turnage, n.d.) before computerized light meters and developing techniques. Adams was also a consultant for companies such as Polaroid and Hasselblad (Turnage, n.d.).

  • Nearly became a concert pianist instead of a photographer (zpub, n.d.)
  • Died of cancer-related heart failure (zpub, n.d.)
  • Was never financially secure despite his fame (Turnage, n.d.)
  • Was described as having a “particular fondness” for alcohol (Turnage, n.d.)
  • Turnage, William (no date) Ansel Adams, Photographer,
  • ZPub (no date) Ansel Adams,
  • Hostetler, Lisa (October 2004) Group f/64 In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,
  • Deyo, Nan (2002), A biography of Ansel Adams Pagewise,

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