He was consulted on technical matters
by photographers Edward Weston and Paul Strand and also by professional
photographic businesses such as Polaroid and Hassleblad. He produced
a whole series of technical books on photography that are still
in print and widely purchased almost 50 years after their first
Adams always used "large
format" cameras for his photographs, the pin-sharp realism
advocated by his approach to capturing images and also by the f/64
group meant that only large negatives could deliver the necessary
quality of image. Pictures of Adams with his chosen tools therefore
frequently make his equipment look very Victorian and old-fashioned.
Large format cameras are physically large and heavy, require a substantial
tripod, take time to set up and set a limitation on how many pictures
can be taken on account of the physically large size, bulk and not
to mention cost of the negatives. A single 10" by 8" negative
that Adams exposed to capture his famous
picture for instance has an area almost 60 times larger than a standard
Such equipment imposes upon the
photographs themselves. With a smaller format camera an image
is the work of seconds and instantly repeatable. With large format
the setting up and preparation takes much longer and a negative
once exposed is one of only relatively few that may be captured.
This focuses the mind as it does the camera, Adams would sometimes
wait for hours or even days to capture a scene waiting while the
lighting and the elements of the view fell into exactly the right
position. Another result of using large format equipment meant that
Adams could work individually on a particular negative, aiding his "visualization"
of an image and bringing it to a real print. Such large negatives
blown up to 30" x 40" would require only a 4 times magnification
as opposed to 28 times for a standard 35mm negative. The difference
in the quality of the final image is enormous.
Ansel Adams was at times a workaholic,
he worked for 18 hours or more a day for weeks on end before eventually
going home and taking to his bed. He also consumed large amounts
of alcohol, had an intense and hectic social life, had affairs and
was for a lot of the time an absent father. He felt that he had
to promote photography as a fine art. He took photographs in order
to express his creative nature, his inner emotions and not simply
to record a scene.
In 1940 Adams Taught his first Yosemite
workshop, the U. S. Camera Photographic Forum, in Yosemite with
Edward Weston. He lectured and taught courses at the Museum of Modern
Art in 1944-1945 and the next year in 1946 he was involved in the
establishment of the department of photography at the California
School of Fine Arts (later the San Francisco Art Institute) at the
time one of the first of its kind.
A Guggenheim Fellowship (a grant
for artists to pursue their talents) was awarded in 1946 (one
of three awarded, in 1946, 1948 and 1959) to photograph National
Park locations and monuments. Some very productive years followed
and a number of
portfolios were produced beginning with Portfolio 1: "In
Memory of Alfred Stieglitz" in 1948. He made trips to Hawaii,
Alaska, and Maine in 1950 and published Portfolio 2: "The
National Parks and Monuments."
In 1953 he collaborated with Dorothea Lange on
a Life magazine commission for a photo essay on the Mormons in Utah.
Portfolio 3: Yosemite Valley was published by the Sierra
Club in 1960.
Adams moved to Carmel, California,1962. In 1967
he was influential in the foundation of the "Friends of Photography"
of which he became president. By 1966 he had been elected a "Fellow
of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences".
By the late 1970s his pictures and skills had
gained much public attention and Ansel Adams prints were selling
to collectors for prices never before achieved by a living American
photographer. He had given up active photography by now and was
dedicating himself to revising his technical photographic books,
publishing books of his life's work, and preparing prints for
a variety of exhibitions.
Adams was an ardent environmentalist in the
days before such a term meant anything. He wrote to anyone he
thought he might influence by his conservation philosophy - politicians,
bureaucrats, newspaper editors and fellow members of the Sierra
Club. His greatest influence however was through the lens rather
than the pen. The beautifully crafted powerful images of the unspoilt
American outdoors carried more weight than any letter ever could
and reached far more people far more quickly and more viscerally.
His photographs were his greatest contribution to the environment
that he loved so deeply.
The key issues to Adams were Yosemite
National Park in particular, the National Parks system in general
and the preservation of wilderness. He resisted the notion that
the National Parks were "resorts" and abhorred their development.
The range of his environmental concerns was legion.
Ansel Adams has been hailed a
genius and few would contradict that assessment. His photographs
have been criticized in that they don't not generally contain
people or even any indication of human influence. The great French
photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson made the oft repeated comment
that "The world is falling to pieces and all that Adams and
Weston photograph is rocks and trees".
This is perhaps unfair as during
the years of the second world war Adams made a photographic study
of interned Japanese whose only crime was to be living in America
with American values and life-styles when America was then at war
with Japan. These photographs themselves were not received well
at the time as perhaps they showed an embarrassing aspect of the
war that some authorities would have preferred to have kept hidden.
This was exhibited in 1944 under the title
Born Free and Equal.
It is often said that Ansel Adams
could only have been the product of America, and certainly in his
latter years and possibly even more so since his death he has been
taken to the heart of the American people as their own unique product.
Writing this as I am, a non-American,
I think of Ansel Adams not as belonging to any nation at all. In
the same way that all races the world over understand the writings
of Shakespeare, Homer and folk legends and stories that cross all
cultural boundaries and speak to every one of us. So the photographs
of Ansel Adams speak of nature, of beauty and of why they are important
to the soul of man.