American landscape photographer and environmentalist, Ansel Adams, was born on February 20, 1902. He became well-known for his large detailed monochrome images of nature, especially photographs from Yosemite National Park in California.
Born in San Francisco, Adams was mostly home schooled as a child after being kicked out of several schools due to his bad behavior. Adams’ first creative passion was the piano, and at age 14, he began to discover his love for photography after a trip to Yosemite National Park. His love turned to obsession and a discovery of his life’s work. He attended camera clubs, poured over photography magazines, and studied darkroom techniques. In the 1920s, he began developing and selling his snapshots in the Yosemite Valley at Best Studio. He married the owner’s daughter, Virginia Best, who inherited the studio when her father died. Adams helped run the studio until 1971, and it was renamed Ansel Adams Gallery.
After publishing Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, his first portfolio, Adams began to gain considerable fame. The portfolio contained one of his most famous images, “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome,” and he was hired for many commercial assignments following his portfolio’s publication. He became the first person to produce a commissioned photographic portrait of a photographer when he was hired to take President Jimmy Carter‘s portrait. Adams dabbled in many different photography techniques ranging from soft-focus images to etching, but over time his style developed into detailed close-ups and large-format photographs, recognized for their stark contrast and intense exposure.
The photographer had close relationships with other artists including Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe and Paul Strand. As a member of the environmental preservation organization, the Sierra Club, since age 17, Adams was known for his environmentalism and worked with photographers Dorthea Lange and Walker Evans on creating social and political change through art. He produced photo essays to advocate wilderness protection, especially in Yosemite, and wartime injustice through his photographs of WWII Japanese internment camps. In 1946, he photographed every national park in the United States as part of his Guggenheim Fellowship. He also helped to found what is one of the most popular photography magazines, Aperture.
As photography transformed into a more greatly appreciated art form, Adams began showing his work in galleries more often, and presented a photographic retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1974. His photographs were in such high demand, that he spent most of his time in the late ’70s printing negatives of his previous work.
In 1984, Adams suffered a heart attack and died in Monterey, California at the age of 82.
Adams has inspired many modern-day photographers with the visualization techniques he used in producing images. He would imagine the image he wanted to create in his “mind’s eye,” and use this meditative state to create his photographs. One of Adams’ favorite Gaelic quotes and words he lived by were, “I know that I am one with beauty and that my comrades are one. Let our souls be mountains, let our spirits be stars, let our hearts be worlds.”