February 20, 2013
Ansel Adams was born on Feb. 20, 1902, in San Francisco. His iconic black-and-white photographs, particularly of Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, became the images Americans hold of our western natural beauty, and though Adams was generally resistant to “art for life’s sake,” he became a voice for the preservation of our inheritance.
He was born into a family made prosperous by harvesting the very woods he later fell in love with. His grandfather founded a lumber business with mills in California and Oregon, which his father ran, though unsuccessfully, going bankrupt in 1911.
After a failed stint in a local school, Ansel was home-schooled by his parents, his aunt and by tutors. When he was eight, he read “The Children’s Plutarch,” a young adult re-working of Plutarch’s “Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans,” biographies focused on men’s moral virtues and failings written in the late 1st century. The introduction to children’s version says they should understand that many of the great lives in the book started in slavery … “It will be well for them [children] to understand that human nature is a mixed and contradictory thing, and that out of the warring good and evil in it the good often triumphed.”
Home schooling was experiential for Ansel, who started a neighborhood newspaper, “West Clay Park Snooper;” and ventured into the offices of a local developer, Steven Born, who taught him drawing and drafting. Piano was an early love, one of his tutors was a neighbor, Henry Cowell, who became a famous composer, and Adams reveled in the talent he discovered. His parents learned that he had a “photographic” memory, and provided a series of piano instructors that taught Adams that “fluid expression could be achieved only through mastery of craft,” as Mary Street Alinder wrote her biography of Adams. Blessed with natural ability and unique talents that were fanned by his instructors, his ambition was to become a pianist.
In 1915, his birthday present was a yearlong pass to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, for which the Palace of Fine Arts was built, and he went to the exposition almost every day from the opening on Feb. 20 to its close on Dec. 4. He attended lectures, concerts, and played in the “Zone,” where roller coasters and other rides awaited.
And in 1916, after reading “Heart of the Sierras,” by J. M Hutchings, with its 154 maps and illustrations, he took his first trip to Yosemite; the first of an annual pilgrimage. His father gave him a Kodak Brownie for the trip, and he returned the following year with better cameras and gear. He joined the Sierra Club when he was 17 and went to work as a caretaker in its Yosemite Valley visitor center.
Adams spent his summers hiking and working in the Sierra Nevada, shooting pictures, and the rest of the year working at the piano. His smallish hands eventually precluded his piano ambitions.
He published his first photographs in 1921, and his first portfolio, “Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras,” in 1927, which featured “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome,” one of the images that cemented his career. With the patronage of San Francisco businessman Albert Bender, the portfolio was financially successful, and Adams’ career, during which he took more than 40,000 HYPERLINK "http://ccp.uair.arizona.edu/item/4538" photographs, published several books, showed in numerous museums and magazines, was launched.
Until the 1970s, Adams income depended on his commercial shoots, with clients like Kodak, Fortune magazine, Pacific Gas and Electric and AT&T.
He did also shoot in color.