Ansel Easton Adams (February 20, 1902 – April 22, 1984) was an American photographer and environmentalist who is known for capturing some of the most iconic images of the American west of all time. Adams and portrait photographer Fred Archer formulated the Zone System to optimize the depth and clarity of each photograph. 



Ansel Adams devoted himself eagerly involved in photography following his first trip to Yosemite National Park, when he was 14. His first professional portfolio was Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, which included "Monolith, the Face of Half Dome." The portfolio was quite successful, and lead to a number of commercial jobs.




Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927


Church, Taos Pueblo, 1942


Close-up of leaves, from directly above, "In Glacier National Park," Montana, 1941–1942

Adams' reputation grew throughout the 20th century, and his career would lead to his close friendship with artists like Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe, of whom he said, "To see O'Keeffe in Yosemite is a revelation . . . Her mood and the mood of the place – not a conflict, but a strange new mixture for me – she actually stirred me to photograph Yosemite again."


Georgia O'Keeffe and Orville Cox, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1937


Adams used his career to affect social change and create political awareness. During the internment of the Japanese during World War II, he photographed life inside the camp as part of a photo essay on the effects of war.

Adams was also deeply committed to the preservation of American wilderness, especially Yosemite. Adams condemned his family's business in the lumber industry, which he condemned for depleting the redwood forests.



Portrait of internee Tom Kobayashi at Manzanar War Relocation Center, Owens Valley, California, 1943. via the Library of Congress


Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, 1940


Jeffrey Pine – Sentinel Dome


Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California, 1960


Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941

Ansel Adams on 'Moonrise': It was made after sundown, there was a twilight glow on the distant peaks and clouds. The average light values of the foreground were placed on the "U" of the Weston Master meter; apparently the values of the moon and distant peaks did not lie higher than the "A" of the meter. . . . Some may consider this photograph a "tour de force" but I think of it as a rather normal photograph of a typical New Mexican landscape. Twilight photography is unfortunately neglected; what may be drab and uninteresting by daylight may assume a magnificent quality in the halflight between sunset and dark.

Moonrise became so popular that Adams personally made over 1,300 photographic prints of it during his long career.


Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958


John Szarkowski (New York Museum of Modern Art) on the photographer: "Ansel Adams attuned himself more precisely than any photographer before him to a visual understanding of the specific quality of the light that fell on a specific place at a specific moment. For Adams the natural landscape is not a fixed and solid sculpture but an insubstantial image, as transient as the light that continually redefines it. This sensibility to the specificity of light was the motive that forced Adams to develop his legendary photographic technique."


The Tetons and the Snake River, 1942

In 1980, Adams was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter. His photograph "The Tetons and the Snake River" is one of a select number of images recorded on the Voyager Golden Record aboard the Voyager spacecraft. Adams' image was one of 115 which were selected to relate information about the Earth and its inhabitants to possible alien civilizations. Adams died on April 22, 1984, at the age of 82. 

Related posts: 

Birthdays in Art: Georgia O'Keeffe


Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Thursday, 20 February 2014
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