Monday, January 9, 2017
Great Photographers: Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams rose to prominence as a photographer of the American West, particularly Yosemite National Park, using his work to promote conservation of wilderness areas. His iconic black-and-white images helped to establish photography among the fine arts.
Ansel Adams was born in on February 20, 1902, in San Francisco, California. His family came to California from New England, having migrated from Ireland in the early 1700s. His grandfather founded a prosperous lumber business, which Adams’ father eventually inherited. Later in life, Adams would condemn that industry for depleting the redwood forests.
As a young child, Adams was injured in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, when an aftershock threw him into a garden wall. His broken nose was never properly set, remaining crooked for the rest of his life.
Adams was a hyperactive and sickly child with few friends. Dismissed from several schools for bad behavior, he was educated by private tutors and members of his family from the age of 12.
Adams taught himself the piano, which would become his early passion. In 1916, following a trip to Yosemite National Park, he also began experimenting with photography. He learned darkroom techniques and read photography magazines, attended camera club meetings, and went to photography and art exhibits. He developed and sold his early photographs at Best’s Studio in Yosemite Valley.
In 1928, Ansel Adams married Virginia Best, the daughter of the Best’s Studio proprietor. Virginia inherited the studio from her artist father on his death in 1935, and the Adamses continued to operate the studio until 1971. The business, now known as the Ansel Adams Gallery, remains in the family.
Adams’ professional breakthrough followed the publication of his first portfolio, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, which included his famous image Monolith, the Face of Half Dome. The portfolio was a success, leading to a number of commercial assignments.
Between 1929 and 1942, Adams’ work and reputation developed. Adams expanded his repertoire, focusing on detailed close-ups as well as large forms, from mountains to factories. He spent time in New Mexico with artists including Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe and Paul Strand. He began to publish essays and instructional books on photography.
During this period, Adams joined photographers Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans in their commitment to affecting social and political change through art. Adams’ first cause was the protection of wilderness areas, including Yosemite. After the internment of Japanese people during World War II, Adams photographed life in the camps for a photo essay on wartime injustice.
Weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Adams shot a scene of the moon rising above a village. Adams re-interpreted the image - titled “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” - over nearly four decades, making over a thousand unique prints that helped him to achieve financial stability.
By the 1960s, appreciation of photography as an art form had expanded to the point at which Adams’ images were shown in large galleries and museums. In 1974, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York hosted a retrospective exhibit. Adams spent much of the 1970s printing negatives in order to satisfy demand for his iconic works. Adams had a heart attack and died on April 22, 1984, at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, California, at the age of 82.
Quotes by Ansel Adams
The only things in my life that compatibly exists with this grand universe are the creative works of the human spirit.
There are no forms in nature. Nature is a vast, chaotic collection of shapes. You as an artist create configurations out of chaos. You make a formal statement where there was none to begin with. All art is a combination of an external event and an internal event… I make a photograph to give you the equivalent of what I felt. Equivalent is still the best word.
There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.
When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.
Some photographers take reality... and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation.
Millions of men have lived to fight, build palaces and boundaries, shape destinies and societies; but the compelling force of all times has been the force of originality and creation profoundly affecting the roots of human spirit.
A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.
No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.
A photograph is usually looked at - seldom looked into.
Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs.
Photographs by Ansel Adams