The Life of Ansel Adams

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Ansel Adams

            Ansel Adams was born February 20, 1902 in San Francisco, California. His famous photographs of Yosemite National Park inspired him to work towards conserving the wilderness (and the wildlife that resided there) that he loved to photograph. His proximity to the wilderness influenced him tremendously. He did not have to travel to find it and saw first hand what could happen when that wilderness was not conserved. His interest in preserving the it led him to fight for the Wilderness Act, to fight for wild Alaska, to fight for Big Sur in California (and the redwoods there), and also to fight for sea otters and clean air and water (Turnage 2009).

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His Life

Ansel Adams had parents who were liberal and had no affiliation with any organized religion. They allowed him to discover different types of art early in life, especially when his father gave him a yearlong pass to the Panama Pacific Exposition. The exposition allowed him to become exposed to sculpture and modern painting. Only a few years after the exposition, he took a wilderness trip to Yosemite National Park with friends to photograph the landscape there. It was during that trip that he met his future wife, Virginia Best. The marriage was not perfect because Adams spent time contemplating leaving his wife for his darkroom assistant Patsy English (PBS 2002).

His Work

It was his famous picture of the Half Dome at Yosemite National Park that garnered an art patron’s interest in his work. The patron agreed to help him publicize his photographs and sell them. The photograph of Half Dome is still his most well-known picture.  He created his unique style of using a filter to change the effects of a picture for The Face of Half Dome (PBS 2002). Even though he is responsible for his trademark style, the person who influenced him the most was a man named Paul Strand. Strand was a photographer who convinced Adams to change his style to “straight photography” (Encyclopedia of World Biography 2003). Yet Strand was not the only contemporary Adams worked with. He helped start a photography group of his contemporaries, most notably Edward Wilson and Imogen Cunningham, named f/64. Photography was not part of a prominent medium at the time, and that is why his contemporaries believed that his work was important. In their eyes he elevated photography to a level of fine art (Encyclopedia of World Biography 2003).


            Ansel Adams used his personal life to connect to his audience. Most major turning points in his life occurred within Yosemite. He met his wife there and the photograph that jettisoned his career was taken there. People are the sum of their experiences and it is only right to assume that a place that held so much importance in shaping who he was also had an effect on his photographic works.

Yosemite National Park has an almost reverential appeal to him, therefore he chose to spend his life capturing the beauty of what he saw to try and translate that beauty for his audience. His drive to convey the beauty and the feeling of Yosemite is apparent in his conservation efforts. Efforts which eventually allowed him to meet three presidents (Johnson, Ford and Carter) (PBS 2002). He loved wildlife and he believed that any vision must be inspired by life on earth (Encyclopedia of World Biography 2003).

Many people wonder if art imitates life or if life imitates art. Through the eyes of Ansel Adams, it was life that imitated the unseen art of the world around him. Where some people ignore the all-encompassing beauty around them, he chose to devote his life to those grand landscapes and give back everything that the wilderness gave to him.


“Adams, Ansel.” U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Biography. The Gale Group, Inc. 2003.

Retrieved July 27, 2009 from .

PBS. (2002). People & Events: Ansel Adams (1902-1984). Retrieved July 27, 2009, from .

Turnage, W. (2009). Ansel Adams, Photographer. Retrieved July 28, 2009, from THE ANSEL


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The Life of Ansel Adams. (2016, Jun 30). Retrieved from

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