Ansel Adams was born on February 20, 1902, in San Francisco to Charles and Olive Adams. He lived a happy, peaceful childhood, and only has one blatant recollection of misfortune. San Francisco has suffered from a terrible fire and earthquake in the year of 1906. But instead of facing it with terrible remorse, he found it inspirational saying, “But we were not burned out, ruined, or bereft of family and friends.” Ansel lived a very pleasant life; however, he suffered frequently from illness. His interest in nature, however, was with him even in childhood. Adams enjoyed exploring the outdoors, and his favorite activity was collecting insects.

It wasn’t long before Adams became impatient with the way school worked. Adams failed to see the reason behind what he saw as senseless memorization, and he had no desire to be in a classroom where such activities took place. After several incidents at school, he was taken out of school and taught at home by his father. Eventually, he reentered school and received an eighth grade diploma from the Wilkins School. Around the age of 13, he began taking piano lessons and became seriously interested in music. It was through music, that he became a better disciplined person and learned how to use art to channel his emotions. He studied under the very prominent pianist, Frederich Zech. It was through his training that Adams grew to love music and was an accomplished pianist himself.

It wasn’t until 1916 that Adams first experienced true photography. Ansel’s family traveled to the Yosemite national park, and Ansel was given a “Brown Box” camera to experiment taking pictures with. He was completely intrigued by how the camera works, and spent most of the trip taking pictures. In the early 1920’s, Ansel Adams became involved with the Sierra Club, where he learned the basics to wilderness and conservation. While on Sierra Club outings, he took pictures of nature and realized how truly awesome the beauty of nature is. It was outings like these that gave Ansel the inspiration to shoot such famous pictures his “Tetons and Snake River”.

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It only took a few years for Ansel to notice that photography was the exact thing he wanted to do. Adams looked up to Bill and Marguerite Zorach, acquaintances of Adams. He realized from their example that it was practical to pursue a career in photography; they gave Adams direction. At first photography was just a hobby for him, but soon as his skills improved, it became easier and easier to make money.

He photographed his first masterpiece, “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome,” in April 1927. This was a visualization, meaning that he determined the desired emotional qualities of the print before he exposed the negative. Almost a year later, Adams married Virginia Rose Best in Yosemite. In 1930, Adams met Paul Strand in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. After learning of Strand’s complete dedication to creative photography, Adams dedicated himself to a career in photography. That year, he built a home and studio adjacent to his parents’ home.

Ansel Adams founded Group f.64, an organization of photographers dedicated to purity in the art in 1932. Also that year, he photographed his famous works “Frozen Lake and Cliffs,” “The Golden Gate Before the Bridge,” and “Rose and Driftwood.” In 1933, his son Michael was born in Yosemite, followed by daughter Anne in 1935. He was elected to the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club in 1934. Ansel had generated a large amount of respect among fellow photographers. He began teaching photography workshops at Yosemite with Edward Weston.

He received the Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship to photograph national parks and monuments in 1946. He is remembered for the extensive collection of photographs resulting from this that illustrate the grandeur of the national parks. From then, he went on to receive several other fellowships and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980 from President Carter. In 1981, he received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Harvard University. Ansel Adams died on April 22, 1984, of heart failure aggravated by cancer.

Though he may have died, his pictures live on today. We can look at the pictures he took, and find inspiration in the most dire of situations. Though we may have heard, and difficult times during life, it’s people like Ansel that give us a reason to live, saying that we can be somebody if we put our whole heart and mind into it. Ansel himself took a lot longer than he should have to receive his eighth grade education, and yet he became one of the highest and most respected photographers in the world. And surely that, is something to work hard for.


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