Magazine article USA TODAY

Ansel Adams at 100: "His Photographs Transcend the Simple Description of Objects and Landscape; They Depict Transient Aspects of Light, Atmosphere, and Natural Phenomena." (Focus on America)

Magazine article USA TODAY

Ansel Adams at 100: "His Photographs Transcend the Simple Description of Objects and Landscape; They Depict Transient Aspects of Light, Atmosphere, and Natural Phenomena." (Focus on America)

Article excerpt

ANSEL ADAMS has become a figure of monumental stature in popular culture, revered for his unmistakable views of the rugged mountains, icy lakes, and exquisite natural landscapes of the American West. He also is well-known for his work as a pioneering environmentalist--he was a member of the Sierra Club from the age of 17 and served as a director for 37 years. Despite (or perhaps because of) his creation of thousands of photographs and an immense range of publications, Adams' signal contribution to the development of modern photography has been, ironically, obscured by his popularity. John Szarkowski, director emeritus of the Department of Photography, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York--a friend of the artist for 20 years and a scholar of his work for more than four decades--explains: "Ansel Adams was one of the great photographers of this century. He was also one of the best-loved spokesmen for the obligations we owe to the natural world. It has been easy to confuse the related but distinct achievements that earned him these twin honors."

One of San Francisco's most famous citizens, Adams was born in the city in 1902 and lived there for 60 years, though he spent the last two decades of his life in Big Sur, near Carmel. Adams trained as a musician and supported himself by teaching the piano until 1930. He became involved with photography in 1916, when his parents presented him with a Kodak Box Brownie camera during a summer vacation in Yosemite National Park, which became the lifelong subject he is best known for.

From 1920 to 1927, Adams served as a custodian of the LeConte Memorial in Yosemite, the Sierra Club's headquarters. His duties included leading weekly expeditions through the valley and rims, during which he continued to photograph the landscape. He considered his snapshots taken during the early 1920s of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to be a visual diary, the work of an ardent hobbyist. Adams' revelatory 1927 experience in creating "Monolith, the Face of Half Dome," one of his most-famous images, is described in the Grove Dictionary of Art: "Adams planned his photograph, waited for the exact sunlight he desired, and used a red filter to darken the sky against the monumental cliff. He later referred to his image as his `first true visualization' of the subject, not as it appeared `in reality, but how it felt to me and how it must appear in the finished print.'"

In 1930, Adams, having already published his first portfolio and first illustrated book, met photographer Paul Strand and decided to devote himself to photography. Strand's photographic vision helped Adams realize the potential of the medium as an expressive art form, and he abandoned textured photographic paper, his last vestige of Pictorialism, for glossy stock, and experienced a liberation in his creative direction as well. In 1932, Adams helped found Group f/64, an affiliation of Bay Area artists, including Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston. Unlike most photographers of the time, Group f/64 was interested in producing and promoting "straight," unmanipulated photography--expression in a pure, Modernist vein.

Adams visited the charismatic photographer Alfred Stieglitz at his famous New York gallery, An American Place, in 1933, and exhibited there in 1936. …

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