Saturday Art: Ansel Adams
(Picture courtesy of Gary Thomson’s photostream on flickr.com.)
A pioneer in photography, Ansel Adams either made Yosemite iconic or the other way around. His starkly wonderful black and white shots of the dramatic landscapes there should be familiar to us all. He developed the Zone System for clarity and contrast, and used a large-format camera for its resolution. He developed and taught ‘visualization’, about conceiving the photograph before making it into a photograph.
Adams first visited Yosemite National Park in 1916 with his family. He wrote of his first view of the valley: “the splendor of Yosemite burst upon us and it was glorious… One wonder after another descended upon us… There was light everywhere… A new era began for me.” His father gave him his first camera, a Kodak Brownie box camera, during that stay and he took his first photographs with his “usual hyperactive enthusiasm”. He returned to Yosemite on his own the following year with better cameras and a tripod. In the winter, he learned basic darkroom technique working part-time for a San Francisco photo finisher. Adams avidly read photography magazines, attended camera club meetings, and went to photography and art exhibits. With retired geologist and amateur ornithologist Francis Holman, who he called “Uncle Frank”, he explored the High Sierra, in summer and winter, developing the stamina and skill needed to photograph at high elevation and under difficult weather conditions.
Mostly resistant to the “art for life’s sake” movement, Adams did begin in the 1930s to deploy his photographs in the cause of wilderness preservation. In part, he was inspired by the increasing desecration of Yosemite Valley by commercial development, including a pool hall, bowling alley, golf course, shops, and automobile traffic. He created a limited-edition book in 1938, Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail, as part of the Sierra Club’s efforts to secure the designation of Sequoia and Kings Canyon as national parks. This book and his testimony before Congress played a vital role in the success of the effort, and Congress designated the area as a National Park in 1940.
Adams spent the large part of his career in the wastelands of California’s Yosemite National Park. He exhibited all over the world. As a founder, with others, of Group f/64, he established photographic art as both legitimate as artistic creation, and truly inspirational. An archive of his work is found at University of Arizona, Tucson.
His work is handled by The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.
(Picture courtesy of digitalnative on flickr.com.)