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Ansel Adams
Mount Clarence King, Kings Canyon National Park, California
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1977

12 1/8 x 9 inches
Gift of the photographer

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, New York:

Ansel Adams

American photographer. He 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. In 1917–18 he worked part-time in a photo-finishing business. From 1920 to 1927 he served as 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 of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, taken during the early 1920s, to be a visual diary, the work of an ardent hobbyist. By 1923 he used a 6½×8½-inch Korona view camera on his pack trips, and in 1927 he spent an afternoon making one of his most famous images, Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park (Chicago, IL, A. Inst.). 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 this 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’ (Ansel Adams: An Autobiography, p. 76).

With the assistance of Albert Bender (1866–1941), one of San Francisco’s foremost patrons of the arts, Adams published his first portfolio, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras (San Francisco, 1927), and his first illustrated book, Taos pueblo (San Francisco, 1930). In 1930 he met Paul Strand and decided to devote himself to photography. Strand’s photographic vision made Adams realize the potential of the medium as an expressive art form. Adams abandoned textured photographic paper, his last vestige of Pictorialism, for glossy stock and experienced a liberation in his creative direction as well. In 1932 he and several San Francisco Bay Area photographers formed Group f.64 to promote ‘straight’ unmanipulated photography.

Adams visited Alfred Stieglitz at his New York gallery, An American Place, in 1933 and exhibited there in 1936, his contact with Stieglitz giving him more confidence in the medium. He wrote his first technical manual, Making a Photograph (London & New York, 1935), and subsequently published several others, along with collections of photographs.

Adams used all types of camera and experimented constantly with new techniques. He developed a ‘zone system’, which divided the gradations of light into ten zones from black to white, allowing the photographer, with the help of an exposure meter, to correlate areas of different luminosity in the subject with the approximate value of grey in the final print. Adams’s technical mastery, his complete control of the final image, was a necessary stage of development in achieving his full creative vision. His photographs transcend the simple description of objects and landscape: they depict transient aspects of light, atmosphere and natural phenomena.

In 1940 Adams helped to establish the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and co-curated its first exhibition. He also established the Department of Photography at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) in 1946. He moved to Carmel, CA, in 1961 and was one of the founders of the Friends of Photography in 1966.

Richard Lorenz
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press


Ansel Adams, American (1902-1984)
b. February 20, 1902, San Francisco, CA
d. 1984

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