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Ansel Adams

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Adams, Ansel

American, 1902-1984

Throughout his long and prolific career, Ansel Adams created a body of work which has come to exemplify not only the purist approach to the medium, but to many people the definitive pictorial statement on the American western landscape. He was also strongly associated with a visionary sense of the redemptive beauty of wilderness and the importance of its preservation. The prestige and popularity of his work has been enhanced by the extraordinary technical perfection of his photography and his insistence on absolute control of the photographic processes.

Born in San Francisco, Adams manifested an early interest in music and the piano, an interest which he initially hoped to develop into a professional career. In 1916 he took his first photographs of the Yosemite Valley, an experience of such intensity that he was to view it as a lifelong inspiration. He studied photography with a photofinisher, producing early work influenced by the then prevalent pictorialist style. Each summer he returned to Yosemite where he developed an interest in conservation. These trips involved exploration, climbing and photography, and by 1920 he had formed an association with the Sierra Club. In 1927 his first portfolio was published, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras. In 1928 he married Virginia Best and began to work as an official photographer for the Sierra Club. His decision to devote his life to photography was influenced by his strong response to the straight photography of Paul Strand, whom he met in 1930. Adams's first important one-man show was held in 1931 at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, and in the same year his work was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution. The following year Adams and several other California-based photographers, notably Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, founded Group f/64. For Adams and Weston especially, the f/64 philosophy embodied an approach to perfect realization of photographic vision through technically flawless prints. Despite this, Adams never decried experimentation as such, and he himself used a variety of large-format and miniature cameras.

After meeting with Alfred Stieglitz in 1933, he began a gallery in San Francisco, the Ansel Adams Gallery. The first of his books dealing with the mastery of photographic technique, Making a Photograph, was published in 1935. Meanwhile, Adams had impressed Stieglitz so much that an important one-man exhibition of his work was shown at An American Place in 1936.

During the following two years Adams moved into the Yosemite Valley and made trips throughout the Southwest with Weston, Georgia O'Keeffe, and David McAlpin. His photographs accompanied the 1938 publication of Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. Having met Beaumont and Nancy Newhall in New York in 1939, the following year Adams, along with McAlpin, assisted in the foundation of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). With the arrival of World War II, Adams went to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a photomuralist for the Department of the Interior. During this time he began to develop a codification of his approach to exposure, processing, and printing - the zone system. In effect, this system

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