Ansel Adams

I know this is somewhat predictable on my part, and that Lara and Grisha didn’t even include him in my list of photographers to research, but I feel compelled to make a post about Ansel Adams. He is one of the icons of 20th century American photography, has influenced not only the progression of the art of photography, but American political and cultural life as well.

Adams was born in San Francisco, California in 1902 (incidentally, his nose was crooked due to being broken against a wall in the earthquake of 1906). He seems to have been greatly inspired by nature as a young man, and joined the Sierra Club at the age of 17, working at one of their lodges in the Yosemite Valley, his photographs of which would go on to make him famous. Adams was actively involved with the Sierra Club for many decades and helped guide it in its advocacy of conservation with government and the public.

Adams’ photography is defined by a stunning sharpness and attention to detail the few other photographers have matched. He enjoyed working with large format camera due to the resolution and image quality they provided, especially in his photographs of grand natural settings. Curiously, relatively few of Adams’ photos include humans – he seems to have focused greatly on his natural surroundings and the environment.

In regards to the progression of photography, Adams was a founding member of Group f/64, a group of several San Francisco-based photographers that were significantly influential in the evolution of modern photography. Adams and his colleagues rejected the pictorialist  approach (still very popular in his time) that suggested that photographers must imbue a sort of tone or emotion into a photograph, as the painters of the past did, to distinguish it as art, as opposed to simply a bland recording of reality. Group f/64, in its manifesto, dedicated itself to “pure photography”:

Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form. The production of the “Pictorialist,” on the other hand, indicates a devotion to principles of art which are directly related to painting and the graphic arts.

Adams’ focus on nature in his photography was also instrumental in galvanizing public and government support for the creation of several national parks. His images conveyed the sheer beauty and immensity of these natural areas in a formalistic but elegantly simple sort of way, and it is due in large part to his work that we have such amazing conserved areas in this country and a strong tradition of conservation that continues to this day.

Below I’ve included some of Adams’ more iconic works. You can see that they show a stunning, even sublime eye for the subtleties of nature. Adams saw the beauty in everything from the details in the vein of a leaf to expansive landscapes. Personally, I feel  a strong connection to his work and the genre of nature photography in general. I feel that it gives us a sense of perspective – it reminds us that there are intricate, beautiful details that we haven’t considered, and that we are tiny in comparison to the vastness of our Earth and our universe. And perhaps most relevant to Adams’ life, it reminds us why we must work to preserve our natural heritage.

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