The legendary creative genius Ansel Adams was well known for his black and white photographs. Although he did shoot in colour, he felt it could be distracting to the viewer and claimed a far greater sense of ‘colour’ could be achieved through a well executed monochrome image.
Ansel Adams is widely recognised for the innovation he brought to photography which included the development of the Zone System with Fred Archer – a photographic technique for determining optimal film exposure and development. He founded the photography Group f/64 with Willard Van Dyke and Edward Weston and has produced many of the most influential technical manuals on photography ever written. He will also be remembered for having a camera platform mounted on his car to get a better angle over his expansive backgrounds.
He was born in 1902 to distinctly upper class parents Charles Hitchcock Adams and Olive Bray. They lived in San Francisco where they had a splendid view of the Golden Gate. The family fortune collapsed in 1907 and within five years the family’s standard of living dropped sharply. Adams had problems at school and from the age of 12 was home educated by an Aunt and his father.
When he was 12 he taught himself to play the piano. It was Adams’ primary occupation for the decade that followed and, by 1920, his intended profession. Although he ultimately gave up music for photography, the piano brought substance, discipline, and structure which profoundly informed his visual artistry.
Adams first visited Yosemite National Park in 1916 with his family. His father gave him his first camera, a Kodak Brownie box camera, during that stay. He returned to Yosemite on his own the following year and every Summer thereafter. In the Winter he learnt darkroom techniques, read photography magazines, attended camera club meetings and exhibitions.
Ansel Adams produced his first photograph in 1921 with his first portfolio, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, created in 1927. It included his famous image Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, taken with his Korona view camera using glass plates and a dark red filter. It was a success and with the support of businessman Albert Bender he received commercial assignments as a result. His creative energies and abilities as a photographer blossomed, and he began to have the confidence to pursue his dreams.
Between 1929 and 1942, Adams’s work matured and he became more established. He expanded his work to include detailed close-ups and large forms such as mountains. He also put on his first solo museum exhibition featuring 60 prints.
Adams formed Group f/64 in 1932 which supported pure or straight photography – f/64 being a small aperture setting that provides great depth of field. A year later he opened his own art and photography gallery. He began to publish essays in photography magazines and wrote his first instructional book – Making a Photograph. During the summers, he often participated in Sierra Club High Trips outings as a paid photographer for the group.
In 1941 Ansel put together A Pageant of Photography which is the largest photography show in the West to date attended by millions of visitors. He also taught photography by giving workshops and began his first serious stint of teaching.
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, is one of Ansel Adam’s most famous photographs. Over nearly 40 years, he re-interpreted this image providing him with financial independence from commercial projects. The value of these prints exceeded $25m.
Adams co-founded Aperture magazine in 1952 which was intended as a serious journal of photography showcasing its best practitioners and newest innovations.
Ansel Adam’s photographs became the symbol of wild America. He created a sense of the magnificent in nature often creating an image more powerful than the actual thing.
If you’d like to see more of his photographs, check out the Pinterest board or visit the Ansel Adams Gallery.