The Photography Legends come back on the blog with Ansel Adams whose black-and-white photographs helped create a sense of the sublime magnificence of nature.

Adams was an unremitting activist for the cause of wilderness and the environment, let's rediscover his iconic photos in full-resolution powered by Prodibi!

About the Artist

Born on February 20, 1902 in San Francisco, California, Ansel Easton Adams was a landscape photographer and environmentalist known for his black-and-white images of the American West.

He helped found Group f/64, an association of photographers advocating "pure" photography which favored sharp focus and the use of the full tonal range of a photograph. Adams’s photographs 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.

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. When Adams was only four, an aftershock of the great earthquake and fire of 1906 threw him to the ground and badly broke his nose, distinctly marking him for life.

Adams was a hyperactive child and prone to frequent sickness and hypochondria. He was dismissed from several private schools for being restless and inattentive, and his father finally decided to remove him from school at age 12.

It is also at age 12 that he was given his first camera during his first visit to Yosemite National Park. Slowly, he started learning darkroom techniques by attending camera club meetings, photography and art exhibitions and reading photography magazines.

However, Adams first love was playing the piano, and he became determined to pursue a career as a classical pianist. Although he ultimately gave up music for photography, the piano brought substance, discipline, and structure to his frustrating and erratic youth. Moreover, the careful training and exacting craft required of a musician profoundly informed his visual artistry, as well as his influential writings and teachings on photography

The most important result of Adams’s somewhat solitary and unmistakably different childhood was the joy that he found in nature, as evidenced by his taking long walks in the still-wild reaches of the Golden Gate. Nearly every day found him hiking the dunes or meandering along Lobos Creek, down to Baker Beach, or out to the very edge of the American continent.

At age 17, Adams joined the Sierra Club, a group dedicated to protecting the wild places of the earth; and he remained a member throughout his lifetime and served as a director, as did his wife. The Sierra Club was vital to Adams’s early success as a photographer. His first published photographs and writings appeared in the club’s 1922 Bulletin, and he had his first one man exhibition in 1928 at the club’s San Francisco headquarters.

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 propelled in part by his ability and in part by his effusive energy and activity.

He made his first visit to New York in 1933, on a pilgrimage to meet photographer Alfred Stieglitz, the artist whose work and philosophy Adams most admired and whose life of commitment to the medium he consciously emulated. Their relationship was intense and their correspondence frequent, rich, and insightful.

Adams’s technical mastery was the stuff of legend. More than any creative photographer, before or since, he reveled in the theory and practice of the medium. Weston and Strand frequently consulted him for technical advice. He served as principal photographic consultant to Polaroid and Hasselblad and, informally, to many other photographic concerns.

Adams developed the famous and highly complex “zone system” of controlling and relating exposure and development, enabling photographers to creatively visualize an image and produce a photograph that matched and expressed that visualization. He produced ten volumes of technical manuals on photography, which are the most influential books ever written on the subject.

Adams was also a key advisor in establishing the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, an important landmark in securing photography's institutional legitimacy. He helped to stage that department's first photography exhibition, helped found the photography magazine Aperture, and co-founded the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.

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Adams was a life-long advocate for environmental conservation, and his photographic practice was deeply entwined with this advocacy. Though wilderness and the environment were his grand passions, photography was his calling, his metier, his raison d’etre. Adams never made a creative photograph specifically for environmental purposes. The great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson made the well-known comment that “the world is falling to pieces and all Adams and Weston photograph is rocks and trees”. On the contrary, the places that Adams photographed are, with few exceptions, precisely those wilderness and park areas that have been preserved for all time. More than any other influential American of his epoch, Adams believed in both the possibility and the probability of humankind living in harmony and balance with its environment.

To see more of Ansel's work:

The Ansel Adams Gallery

All photographs ©️️The Ansel Adams Gallery

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