Ansel Adams - profile, photography

Ansel Adams /   Ansel Easton Adams

United States 1902 - 1984


Ansel Adams
Ansel Easton Adams
United States
July 15, 2015

Ansel Adams was an iconic American photographer, well-known for his monumental black and white images of national parks and landscapes. Distinguished by extraordinary clarity and profundity, his photographs are amongst the most recognizable images in the world, broadly reprinted in numerous magazines, journals, and wallpapers. As an environmentalist, Ansel Adams used his images to recruit and inspire people to ecological activism and conservation of nature and wilderness. He mostly photographed nature of American West, Grand Canyon in Arizona and, his favorite, Yosemite National Park. Adams was a member of the Group f/64, an association of American photographers who made detailed and realistic work.

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Ansel Adams – Evening, McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park (Left), 1942 / Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (Right), 1941

Early Years, Youth and the Earthquake that Crooked the Nose

Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco in 1902, to a wealthy middle-class family. He was an only child and his parents continued to work in the lumber business that his father inherited. In 1906 young Ansel Adams survived a major earthquake, luckily ending up with just a few scratches and crooked nose, the later became his personal charming feature. He grew up in a house near the Golden Gate. His family struggled to maintain a certain lifestyle, that they were used to having. Adams had a nanny and a private tutor. His parents believed in traditional upbringing and were quite reserved and emotionally restricted. His crooked nose was a mark of individuality for him and combined with his conservative upbringing and natural shyness, it caused him some difficulties to fit in. Along with sentimental quirks, he also had dyslexia and that was the main reason his father took him out of school and tutored him at home. Since an early age, Adams showed a great interest in spending time outdoors. Considering he was homeschooled he spent almost every day outside, hiking and taking long walks in nature, looking at the Golden Gate sand dunes. His enthusiasm and intelligence ignited an artistic spark and when he was twelve years old he started playing the piano. At first, he was self-taught, later he worked with a tutor. Until he was eighteen years old he considered himself as a pianist, a musician, but later swapped a career in music with photography.

Adams was favoring clean, straight technique that required the clear lens and good tools

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Ansel Adams taking a photo at Yosemite Park

The Master of Modern Photographs

After realizing that hard work and self-discipline can make dreams come true, he started working on his hobby a bit more. The first camera he used was the Kodak No. 1 Box Brownie and the first scenery he photographed was at the Yosemite valley. That was his favorite place in the country, and soon after quitting his musical career he met some influential people who happened to be owners of the housing complexes in Yosemite and founders of America’s earliest environmentalism movement. The club he joined when he befriended those substantial people was called the Sierra Club and in 1922 he published his first photographs in their magazine. His first exhibition also happened under the auspices of the Sierra Club, in 1928. The biggest change in his life occurred when he met a photographer Paul Strand, whose style was more realistic and clear than the pictorial one Adams was favoring at the time. He switched to clean, straight technique that required the clear lens method. After adopting different ways, he also learned how to master the skills needed in the dark room. In 1932, he joined the Group f/64 which he partially confounded with colleague and fellow artist Edward Weston. The group was short-lived but their influence, at the time, was huge. After the collective exhibition in straight photography, Adams had his first solo museum show. His love for Yosemite had to do with more than just nature, he met his lovely wife there, Virginia Best who was also a photographer. She inherited the Best’ Photo studio from her father and she and Adams continued to work there.

Adams’ philosophy of art inspired many contemporary artists

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Ansel Adams – The Tetons and the Snake River, 1942

Philosophy of Art, Craft, Iconic Images and Zone System

He had a peculiar approach to a quite general philosophy of art. He almost religiously preached that the real artist must discover the beauty in the world whether that beauty is familiar or unknown. After the discovery, a good quality photo must be taken and then, the beauty must be shared. When people are looking at the wonders of nature or the beauty of just a simple spring rain, their hearts and minds almost instantly find inspiration for the next creation or just the simple enjoyment. Adams’ goal was to evoke those feelings in others. His most challenging and famous piece is the The Tetons and the Snake River image, taken in 1942 in northwest Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. Similar to other Ansel’s masterpieces, this large-scale monochromatic image displays artist’s love towards beauty, harmony, and nature. Well formed, the image highlights Adams’ great intuition for the assembly of scenes and a great sense of something higher, portraying the turning Snake River in the background of Teton mountain range. Adams also worked on fulfilling his technical knowledge all the time. Formulated by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer, a fellow photographer known for his portraits of Hollywood movie stars, the Zone System is a technique of ascertaining correct exposure in diverse working conditions, extending from the most complex lighting surroundings such as backlighting, absolute difference between light and shadow areas of a scene, and many related conditions. Based on postulates of sensitometry, Zone System works in such a way that it divides a scene into 10 zones on the tonal scale. Although the calculations were primarily based on black and white sheet film, the technique can also be used on color roll film, and even on digital photography.

All images © Ansel Adams

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2017Ansel Adams: MasterworksCrooked Tree Arts Center, Petoskey, MISolo
2017Ansel Adams: Early WorksArkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, ARSolo
2016Ansel Adams: MasterworksNorth Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NCSolo
2016Ansel Adams: MasterworksMisericordia University Art Gallery, Dallas, PASolo
2016Fragile WatersSan Juan Island Museum of Art, Friday Harbor, WASolo
2016Ansel Adams: Early WorksFenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NYSolo
2012Ansel Adams MasterworksTurtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, CaliforniaSolo
2012Ansel Adams MasterworksPaine Art Center, Oshkosh, WisconsinSolo
2012Ansel Adams: At the Water's EdgePeabody Essex Museum, Salem, MassachusettsSolo
2012Ansel Adams MasterworksWashington Pavilion of Arts and Science, Sioux Falls, South DakotaSolo
2012Ansel Adams: Classic ImagesLakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences, Wauconda, IllinoisSolo
2011Ansel Adams: Distance and DetailNevada Museum of Art, Reno, NevadaSolo
2011Ansel Adams: Classic ImagesFlorida Museum of Photographic Arts, Tampa, FloridaSolo
2011Ansel Adams MasterworksElla Sharp Museum of Art and History, Jackson, MichiganSolo
2011Ansel Adams: La Natura e il Mi RegnoFondazione Fotografia, Modena, ItalySolo
2011Ansel Adams MasterworksMunson - Williams- Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New YorkSolo
2011Ansel Adams: A LegacyMissoula Art MuseumSolo
2005Paris Photo n°9Paris, FranceGroup
2004Art 35 BaselMesse Basel, Basel BS, SwitzerlandGroup
2003Ansel Adams at 100MoMAQNS Museum of Modern Art Queens, New York NY, United StatesSolo
2003Ansel Adams at 100LACMA Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles CA, United StatesSolo
2003Paris Photo, n°7Carrousel du Louvre, Paris, FranceGroup
2003Art Chicago 2003Navy Pier’s Festival Hall, Chicago IL, United StatesGroup
2002Ansel AdamsHayward Gallery, London, United KingdomSolo
2002100th Birthday CelebrationThe Weston Gallery Limited, Carmel CA, United StatesSolo
2002An American MasterGalerie Rudolf Kicken, Berlin, GermanySolo
2002Adams and O’Keeffe on the roadFitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg MA, United StatesSolo
2002Ansel AdamsSaint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis MO, United StatesSolo
2002Ansel AdamsKunstbibliothek, Berlin, GermanySolo
2002100 YearsCenter for Photographic Art, Carmel CA, United StatesSolo
2002Ansel AdamsHonolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu HI, United StatesSolo
2002Inspiration and InfluenceOakland Museum of California, Oakland CA, United StatesSolo
2002Nature and ArtMuseum of Fine Arts, Saint Petersburg FL, United StatesSolo
2002Ansel Adams at 100The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago IL, United StatesSolo
2002AIPAD Photography ShowAmericas Hall, New York NY, United StatesGroup
2002Made in USA: L’Art américain de 1908 à 1947Musée Fabre, Montpellier, FranceGroup
2002Made in USA: L’Art américain de 1908 à 1947Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes, FranceGroup
2001Ansel AdamsBerkeley Art Museum, Berkeley CA, United StatesSolo
2001Ansel Adams at 100SFMOMA San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco CA, United StatesSolo
2001Paris Photo, n°5Carrousel du Louvre, Paris, FranceGroup
2001Art 32 BaselMesse Basel, Basel BS, SwitzerlandGroup
200113th Annual Works on PaperNew York NY, United StatesGroup
2001AIPAD Photography ShowNew York NY, United StatesGroup
2001Photo L.A The 10th Los Angeles Photographic Print ExpositionSanta Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica CA, United StatesGroup
2001Artpalmbeach, 4th Modern & Contemporary Art FairInternational Pavilion of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach FL, United StatesGroup
2001Made in USA: L’Art américain de 1908 à 1947Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, FranceGroup
2000Photo San Francisco, n° 1Fort Mason, San Francisco CA, United StatesGroup
2000Art Frankfurt, Die europäische Messe für junge Kunst, n° 12Frankfurt, GermanyGroup
1999Artpalmbeach, Modern & Contemporary Art FairInternational Pavilion of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach FL, United StatesGroup
1999In Praise of Nature: Ansel Adams and Photographers of the American WestThe Dayton Art Institute, Dayton OH, United StatesGroup
1999AquaGalerie Thierry Marlat, Paris, FranceGroup
1989Ansel AdamsPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia PA, United StatesSolo
1981Ansel AdamsPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia PA, United StatesSolo
1979Ansel AdamsMoMA Museum of Modern Art, New York NY, United StatesSolo
1931Ansel AdamsSmithsonian Institute, Washington DC, United StatesSolo