Ansel Adams


Ansel Adams was born on February 20th 1902 in San Francisco. He died in Monteray, California on April 22nd 1984 of a heart attack aged 82. Ansel Adams married Virginia Best, the daughter of a studio proprietor. The Adames continue to run the studio to date- Ansel Adams Gallery

As a child he had been taken to Yosemite valley because of this Adams always held an affinity for Yosemite National Park throughout his career. His grandfather owned a logging company which his father would later inherit, ironically Adams in his later years became an environmentalist and criticized the industry for ruining the wilderness.

Ansel Adams rose to prominence as a photographer of the American West in the 1930’s. His iconic black and white images helped to establish photography among the fine arts.

‘They were interesting, attracted to the work of Ansel Adams, whose strikingly detailed photographs of the American West were seen as pictorial testimony of inspiration and redemptive power in a time when America was in a depression struck era’ . The Genius Of Photography p134

Between 1929 and 1945 Adams work and reputation developed. He spent time in New Mexico with artists including Alfred Stieglitz, George O’Keefe, and Paul Strand. He began to publish essays and instructional books on photography. Ansel Adams was a great admirer of Alfred Stieglitz, who made photos of places most notably Lake George in New York State but then Stieglitz did the ‘Equivalents’ – a series of pictures which gave shape to a deeply felt intuition. Adams subscribed to the idea of the ‘Equivalents’, but couldn’t commit himself totally to any style or tendency at that time. For him landscapes played to a broader audience, later he increased his repertoire to focusing on detail close up as well as large format of factories and mountains. During this period Adams joined photographers Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans in their commitment to affecting the social and political change through art.

Ansel Adams photographed life in the Camps for Wartime injustice with the photo essay – Manzanar Relocation Centre.

In 1932 Ansel Adams and William Van Dyke created Group F64. This was a group of 20th century photographers who shared a common style characterized by sharp focused and carefully framed images. In part they formed in opposition to the pictorialist photographic style that had dominated much of the 20th century. They wanted more than anything to promote a new modern aesthetic that was based on precisely exposed images of natural forms and found objects.

Adams professional breakthrough followed the publication of his first portfolio, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, which included his famous image Monolith, the face of Half dome was taken on April 22nd ,1927. The portfolio of 18 Silver gelatin prints lead to a number of commercial assignments.


A notable location to the side of the Half dome is the ‘Diving Board’, where Ansel took this photo. The face of the half dome is darkened by lichens watered from the lip above. Adams must of waited for the sunlight to bisect the face giving a finely inscribed surface. Adams photographed only what was there obtaining an heightened effect by a profound knowledge of photochemistry, which he used to create perfectly controlled negatives and prints. These negatives provided income for Adams in later years as reprints.

‘The negative is the score, the print is the performance’ Ansel Adams

He used a large view camera for much of his career , a method that gives the ultimate quality but requires great deliberation and patience. His approach was technical perfection.

In 1946 Ansel Adams and Fred Archer( a portrait photographer) developed ‘ The Zone system’ , a method by which photographers could pre-visualize the tone of a prospective image in terms of the density of visual information to be registered on the negative. Adams 1948 book ‘The Negative’ remains in print.

The video link below shows Adams explaining ‘Visualization’ method which Stieglitz used.  ( see reference for source blog link)

On a personal note, this is the first time I seen work which was inspired by Ansel Adams.

After watching this advert I actually bought the soundtrack.  Who ever came up with using an ‘All American’ theme tune with mountains and ruggedness, definitely sold a lot of levis. I remember watching this advert as a teenager and thinking ‘Wow’ is that scenery real ?

I remember trying to impress the mother of my new boyfriend at the time, she was a photographer and on first meeting a bit ‘stand offish’. She asked me, ‘Do you know anything about photography’. Straight away, I said ‘I like Ansel Adams work’, well that was it, we got on. In fact, I got on better with her than her son.

That advert isn’t the only reason Ansel Adams appeals to the public. His images of the American wilderness portray an environment as we wish it to be clean, pristine, natural and untouched by man. When looking at the images, you could be there, like a pioneer, seeing nature in its purest form and for the first time.

I want to add this as well because it made me laugh. Last week when I was Christmas shopping with my husband. We went to buy an iPad for Santa to bring my son. In the shop I was looking at all the monitors and then an image appeared it was ‘The half dome’ of Yosemite National park. It was on all the monitors and TV’s, this amused me that I had dragged myself away from my computer screen researching Ansel Adams.

The guy in the store when asked why they were showing this image on all the tvs and monitors said ‘ it sells the monitors better than any other image, it shows all the details and colours that the TV’s can produce’. It wasn’t the Ansel Adams image from 1927, it was another photographer’s interpretation but the scene was the same. I thought then that they is no point any other photographer taking that image from that viewpoint ever again as it will only be known as an Ansel Adams.

One of my favourite Ansel Adams quotes is

‘When words become unclear I shall focus with photographs,

when the images become inadequate,

I shall be content with silence. Ansel Adams

Links for  Research, images and quotes.


The Genius of Photography by Gerry Badger

The photo book  by Phadon

How to read a photograph  by Ian Jeffrey

100 ideas that changed photography

Photography a concise history by Ian Jeffrey


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s