Ansel Adams is perhaps America’s best-known photographer and environmentalist. His black & white images are seared into our minds, but his photos were a powerful force in his advocacy. Whether demanding protection for our national parks and monuments, or his outrage at the injustice of the Japanese American internment camps such as Manzanar, he was willing to take unpopular points of view and press for what he felt was right.
Adams was born in San Francisco, California. He was hyperactive and hypochondriac as a child and had trouble in school. Adams found an outlet in the natural world, and when he was 12, a gift of an Eastman Brownie Box camera before a school trip to Yosemite would change his life. He would return to this National Park throughout his life. When he was in his teens, he was home schooled for several years and his father gave him permission to learn from everything around him, not just from books. Adams was also was a skilled classical pianist and he met his future wife Virginia, the daughter of painter Harry Best, in Yosemite when he was allowed to play piano at the Best house. Adams would later use Best’s studio for his own work.
Adams photographs were first published in 1921 and he and Fred Asher created a system for printing black and white images called the Zone, he also founded Group f/64, photographers who espoused “pure” photography, images with sharp focus and a wide range of blacks. He helped the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) form its Photography Department, when photography was not yet considered a fine art. He was one of the founders of Aperture, an influential photography magazine. Adams considered the natural world a spiritual place. He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980.