• 1916 - First visit to Yosemite at the age of 14 prompted him to try and learn photography. He went to work for a photo-finisher and went back to Yosemite every year after that.
  • 1919 - Custodian of the Sierra Club's Le Conte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite Valley .
  • 1928 became the Sierra Club's official trip photographer.
  • 1934-1971 Sierra Club Board of Directors
  • 1936 - Travels with his photographs to Washington, D.C., to lobby the FDR administration to preserve Kings Canyon and the surrounding High Sierra. His pictures are instrumental in FDR designating Kings Canyon as a National Park.
  • 1963 - Receives Sierra Club's John Muir award
  • 1968 - Awarded the Conservation Service Award, the Interior Department's highest civilian honor.
  • 1980- Receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • 1980 - The Ansel Adams Conservation Award was established by the Wilderness Club
  • 1984 - Minarets Wilderness adjacent to Yosemite Park is renamed the Ansel Adams Wilderness by the 1984 California Wilderness Act.
  • 1985 - Mount Ansel Adams, a 11,760-foot peak located at the head of the Lyell Fork of the Merced River named for him.
Source: yosemite.ca.us

"In the history of American conservation, few have worked as long and as effectively to preserve wilderness and to articulate the "wilderness idea" as Ansel Adams."
Source: Wilderness Society from The Living Wilderness, March 1980, by Robert Turnage

Why was Ansel Adams revered by Americans as no other artist or conservationist has been? William Turnage explains: "More than any other influential American of his epoch, Adams believed in both the possibility and the probability of humankind living in harmony and balance with its environment."

Through early high-country experiences (1920's), Ansel became aware of aesthetic qualities in the wilderness that he had not anticipated.

"I was climbing the long ridge west of Mount Clark. It was one of those mornings where the sunlight is burnished with a keen wind and long feathers of cloud move in a lofty sky. The silver light turned every blade of grass and every particle of sand into a luminous metallic splendor; there was nothing, however small, that did not clash in the bright wind, that did not send arrows of light through the glassy air. I was suddenly arrested in the long crunching path up the ridge by an exceedingly pointed awareness of the light. The moment I paused, the full impact of the mood was upon me; I saw more clearly than I have ever seen before or since the minute detail of the grasses ...the small flotsam of the forest, the motion of the high clouds streaming above the peaks... I dreamed that for a moment time stood quietly, and the vision became but the shadow of an infinitely greater world -- and I had within the grasp of consciousness a transcendental experience."

In the Ansel Adams Documentary from the American Experience at PBS the narrator says, "He would spend the rest of his life trying to capture on film the quicksilver light he saw that morning -- and the sense it conveyed of a deeper truth and meaning."

One spring day in 1927 he perched precariously on a cliff with his camera and the unwieldy photographic glass plates of the day. He hoped to capture an imposing perspective of the face of Half Dome, the snow-laden high country and a crystal-clear sky. Only two unexposed plates remained. With one he made a conventional exposure. Suddenly, he realized that he wanted an image with more emotional impact. "I knew so little about photography then, it was a miracle I got anything. But that was the first time I realized how the print was going to look--what I now call visualization--and was actually thinking about the emotional effect of the image...I began to visualize the black rock and deep sky. I really wanted to give it a monumental, dark quality. So I used the last plate I had with a No. 29-F red filter...and got this exciting picture."

A half-century later, "Monolith - the Face of Half Dome" remains one of Adams' most compelling studies. It bears clear witness to that "pointed awareness of the light" which he experienced on the ridge of Mt. Clark.
Other classics.

Moon and Half Dome, 1960

Moonrise, Hernandez, 1941
Photography Lesson - "Moon and Half Dome" by Ansel Adams | The Ansel Adams Gallery
Click on pictures for more information.
Some of Adams photos required him to wait for hours or days for the right lighting. Moonrise Hernandez was different.
He was having a difficult day photographing in New Mexico, he gave up and headed back to Santa Fe. He says "We were sailing southward along the highway not far from Espanola when I glanced to the left and saw an extraordinary situation - an inevitable photograph! I almost ditched the car and russed to set up my 8x10 camera. I was yelling to my companions to bring me things from the car.
The situation was desperate: the low sun was trailing the edge of the clouds in the west, and shadow would soon dim the white crosses. Realizing as I released the shutter that I had an unusual photograph which deserved a duplicate negative, I swiftly reversed the film holder, but as I pulled the darkslide the sunlight passed from the white crosses; I was a few seconds too late!"
Moonrise, Hernandez is one of his most iconic photos.

In the Ansel Adams Documentary from the American Experience at PBS, Adams says,

"I can't verbalize the internal meaning of pictures whatsoever. Some of my friends can at very mystical levels, but I prefer to say that, if I feel something strongly, I would make a photograph, that would be the equivalent of what I saw and felt... When I'm ready to make a photograph, I think I quite obviously see in my mind's eye something that is not literally there, in the true meaning of the word. I'm interested in expressing something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without."

Ansel Adams elevated the printing techniques of dodging and burning to an art form. He held a card or other opaque object between the enlarger lens and the photographic paper to manipulate the exposure of selected areas on a photographic print. Photoshop includes the digital equivalent of these techniques.

Books - Films:
Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail, 1938 limited-edition classic that set the standard for fine art printing.
"This is the American Earth", Sierra Club (1960), which, with Rachel Carson's classic Silent Spring, played a seminal role in launching the first broad-based citizen environmental movement.
The Portfolios of Ansel Adams (NYGS), by Ansel Adams, 1977
Yosemite and the Range of Light, by Ansel Adams, 1979
NYGS publishes Ansel Adams: Classic Images, 1986
Ansel Adams: Our National Parks, by William A. Turnage , Andrea G. Stillman
Ansel Adams - A Ric Burns documentary explores the meaning and legacy of Adams's life and work within the context of the great themes that absorbed him throughout his career. 2002, 101 minute.

The Role of the Artist in the Environmental Movement at AnselAdams.com
Ansel Adams History - Sierra Club
Ansel Adams Photography - Yosemite Special Edition Photographs
Ansel Adams: A chronology | zpub.com/sf/history
Ansel Adams Timeline | temple.edu
Photos at temple.edu
Photography Lesson - "Moon and Half Dome" by Ansel Adams | The Ansel Adams Gallery

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last updated 23 Apr 2013