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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Ansel Adams

Names:
Born: Ansel Easton Adams 
Dates:  1902, 20 February - 1984, 22 April
Born:  US, CA, San Francisco
Died:  US, CA, Monterey
Active:  US
 
  
Co-founder of the f/64 Group with Edward Weston, Adams is not only known for his landscape photography, especially in Yosemite, but also for the invention of the Zone System, the publication of many books, and his role in the formation of the Friends of Photography in Carmel and the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson.
 
[Courtesy of Pam Roberts]

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Ansel Adams
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

 
  
Ansel Adams is well-known for his portrayal of the mountain ranges, deserts, rivers and skies of the western United States. Adams was a passionate lover of the vast American wilderness and an active conservationist. He commented, "my approach to photography is based on my belief in the vigour and values of the world of nature - in the aspects of grandeur and of the minutiae all about us." Having trained as a pianist before turning to photography in 1927, Adams often discussed his process of composition in musical terms. 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

Biography provided by Focal Press 
  
Through his writings, environmental activism, and photographs, Adamsís images are seen as the quintessential pictorial expression of the American Western landscape, a site of inspiration and redemptive power to be preserved. Adamsí visual power came from an awareness of lightís changing nature and its movement within the landscape. With the help of Fred Archer (1888Ė1963), he developed the Zone System in the late 1930s, adopting the science of sensitometry to a system of tonal visualization of the image. Adams compared the negative to a musical score and the print to its performance. Images like Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941) utilized the straight photographic precepts of Group/64 not to simply document, but to convey a transcendental sense of optimism about the vanishing pristine space of the American West. His book, Born Free and Equal (1944), testifies to the World War II internment of Japanese Americans. By the 1960s, the accessibility of Adamsí images, the respect for his technical brilliance, and the ability of his work to command higher prices helped photography reach a broader range of venues. 
  
(Author: Robert Hirsch - Independent scholar and writer) 
  
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 
  

Further research

 
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Thumbnail
Bill Jay
Ansel Adams 
[Photographers] 
n.d.
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
 
  

Visual indexes

 
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Visual indexes for this photographer are available for subscribers.There is so much more to explore when you subscribe. 
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Internet biographies

Terms and Conditions

 
Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer.Show on this siteGo to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
Show on this siteGo to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.]Show on this siteGo to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography.Show on this siteGo to website
 

Internet resources

Terms and Conditions

 
Ansel Adams: Fiat Lux 
http://www.cmp.ucr.edu 
Go to the "Collections - Permanent" page. 
  
The Ansel Adams Gallery 
http://www.anseladams.com ... 
  
National Archives: Ansel Adams 
http://www.archives.gov ... 
Ansel Adams took a considerable number of photographs on behalf of the National Parks Service and these are available for viewing online or purchase. 
  
Ansel Adams 
http://www.bbc.co.uk ... 
Audio interviews (BBC) 
  
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
  
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.198 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
  
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.16-18 
  
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
  
• Heyman, Theres Thau 1992 Seeing Straight: Group f.64 (California: The Oakland Museum) p.150 
  
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.206 [Includes a well written short biography on Ansel Adams with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
  
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Ansel Adams.] 
  
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.65-67 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 
  
 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

 
• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.239 
  
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.205 
  
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Ansel Adams are included in this classic history.] 
  
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.144 [Analyzes a single photograph by Ansel Adams.] 
  

Collections

Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 
  

 
In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Ansel Adams was represented in 134 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
  
Library of Congress, Washington, USA 
  
Approximate number of records: 267 
Note: A single record may contain more than one photograph.
Click here
 

Quotations

The wit and wisdom.

 
"A good photograph is knowing where to stand."
"A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed."
"A photograph is usually looked at — seldom looked into."
"A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words."
"Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and the wonder surrounding him."
"Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships."
"I am probably afraid that some spectator will not understand my photography — therefore I proceed to make it really less understandable by writing defensibly about it."
"I know some photographs that are extraordinary in their power and conviction, but it is difficult in photography to overcome the superficial power or subject; the concept and statement must be quite convincing in themselves to win over a dramatic and compelling subject situation."
"I tried to keep both arts alive, but the camera won. I found that while the camera does not express the soul, perhaps a photograph can!"
"In my mind‘s eye, I visualize how a particular … sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice."
"In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration."
"It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment."
"It is my intention to present —- through the medium of photography -- intuitive observations of the natural world which may have meaning to the spectators"
"Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer — and often the supreme disappointment."
"Millions of men have lived to fight, build palaces and boundaries, shape destinies and societies; but the compelling force of all times has been the force of originality and creation profoundly affecting the roots of human spirit."
"Myths and creeds are heroic struggles to comprehend the truth in the world."
"Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs."
"Notebook. No photographer should be without one!"
"Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art."
"Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution."
"Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: ‘Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print — my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey - from the subject before me?‘"
"Some photographers take reality…and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation."
"Sometimes I do get to places just when God‘s ready to have somebody click the shutter."
"The negative is comparable to the composer‘s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways."
"There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer."
"There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs."
"There are worlds of experience beyond the world of the aggressive man, beyond history, and beyond science. The moods and qualities of nature and the revelations of great art are equally difficult to define; we can grasp them only in the depths of our perceptive spirit."
"There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept."
"These people live again in print as intensely as when their images were captured on old dry plates of sixty years ago… I am walking in their alleys, standing in their rooms and sheds and workshops, looking in and out of their windows. And they in turn seem to be aware of me."
"To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces and record the qualities of nature and humanity which live or are latent in all things."
"Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop."
"We must remember that a photograph can hold just as much as we put into it, and no one has ever approached the full possibilities of the medium."
"When I‘m ready to make a photograph, I think I quite obviously see in my minds eye something that is not literally there in the true meaning of the word. I‘m interested in something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without."
"When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence."
"Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space."
"You don‘t take a photograph, you make it."
 
  
 
  
 
  
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