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In Focus
Ansel Adams

In Focus
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Decades after his dramatic black and white landscape photographs emerged, American photographer and conservationist Ansel Adams’ compelling images continue to be widely reproduced. They appear on art prints, tabletop books, posters, calendars, and other items. 

Adams, who was born in 1902 in San Francisco, exhibited an interest in nature at an early age. He preferred to spend his leisure time collecting insects and exploring San Francisco’s rugged coastline rather than playing games and participating in sports. 

He discovered his passion for photography and his appreciation for the American West while on a family trip to Yosemite when he was 14 years old. After studying piano for more than a decade, Adams shifted his focus to photography. 

Gradually I got into photography, and pretty soon I’m in photography professionally! But the most important thing is that these precisions were unobtainable in the photographic world. There was no school of photography, nothing but going out and apprenticing yourself to someone who did photofinishing, which I did for a couple of summers. (p. 7)

Spectacular photos of Yosemite and the landscapes of America’s West have become the focus of some the photographer’s most iconic works of the 20th century. 

From 1948 to 1976, he created seven limited-edition portfolios which reflected his technical expertise and the innovative darkroom techniques he introduced.
Accomplishments include the creation of Group f.64, a group of photographers who promoted a purist style with sharp details. It was the antithesis of the soft-focused academic photography known as Pictorialism.

His work went beyond landscapes. During World War II, Adams photographed the Japanese-Americans who were interned at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California. A departure from his previous photography, most of the photographs were portraits. Some captured scenes from daily life. The World Library Foundation houses an extensive record of Adams’ work at Manzanar. A renowned conservationist, Adams served as director of the Sierra Club. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work as a photographer and environmentalist. It’s ironic that the grandson of an affluent timber baron dedicated so much of his life’s work to protecting the environment, including forests. 

In A Tribute, Craig Juckniess writes, 

Few individuals have matched Ansel Adams’ profound and wide-reaching impact on the American public’s attitude toward conservation. Through his writings and speeches, and most importantly through the testimony of his photographs, Adams promoted the preservation of “those qualities and benefits only the earth can provide for now and in the future. (p. 1) 

In 1985, a peak in the Sierra Nevada of California was named Mount Ansel Adams in honor of Adams. Its summit is in Yosemite National Park

By Regina Molaro

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