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Ansel Adams Biography

Ansel Easton Adams
American, Photographer, February 20, 1902 – April 22, 1984

San Francisco-born Ansel Adams took his first photograph in 1916. More than a dozen years later (during which time he also trained as a concert pianist), he decided on photography as a career. A master of the natural landscape photograph, Adams became famous for his spectacular, reverential images of the American West. He also was known for his technical skill, conceiving the zone system method of exposure and development control.

An advocate of straight, unmanipulated photography, in 1932 Adams cofounded Group f/64 (among the other founding members were Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and Willard Van Dyke), and that year exhibited his work with the group at San Francisco's M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. In 1936 his images were featured in a one-person exhibition at Alfred Stieglitz's New York gallery, An American Place, and three years later he took part in group exhibitions at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1940 Adams helped found the department of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, and later in the decade was awarded two fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to photograph America's national parks.

Beginning in the 1930s and continuing throughout his long, productive career, Adams published numerous books and portfolios of his images. His technical books on photography, including Making a Photograph, Basic Photo Series, and Polaroid Land Photography Manual, were also popular. Adams was influential not only as a photographer but also as a teacher, lecturer, and conservationist. In 1980 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor.

Read the Ansel Adams biography published by Oxford University Press for its American National Biography.