Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco to businessman Charles Hitchcock Adams and Olive Bray in 1902. At the age of four, in 1906, the great earthquake of San Francisco tossed him to the ground; the fall resulted in a "badly broken nose" which marked him for the rest of his life according to William Turnage, writing in the Website www.AnselAdams.com. Adams did not do well in school but he was interested in music and found tremendous job in the natural world. In fact his love of nature was "nurtured" in the Golden Gate area and in the Yosemite Valley. His parents gave him a Kodak No. 1 Box Brownie, he joined the Sierra Club, and began spending a lot of time -- and taking photos -- in Yosemite.
He moved up to better cameras, and began getting recognition by the 1930s. He had his first showing in 1933 at the Delphic Gallery in New York, and his first book came out in 1935. He shot photos for the National Park Service, IBM, AT&T, Kodak, and others, to earn the money he needed for survival. As he celebrity grew, he used his position to promote the preservation of wilderness. He is known to have gone camping with President Teddy Roosevelt and he is, due to his incredible volume of extraordinary work, an icon in the world of photography. According to his biographer Turnage, the public has expressed "undiminished enthusiasm" over Adams' work through the years; Adams was "…an extraordinary phenomenon, perhaps even unparalleled in our country's response to a visual artist."
Adams and Technical Excellence
Author Jonathon Spaulding explains that when Adams went to work for a neighbor, Frank Dittman, at the age of 15 as a "darkroom monkey" -- Dittman had a darkroom in his basement where he produced finished photos for customers -- Adams learned the technical rudiments of photographic chemistry (Dittman, 1998, p. 28). It was tedious work and Adams started at 7:00 A.M., picking up negatives and prints at Dittman's and making the rounds to drugstores in San Francisco by streetcar. Then around 10:30 he began processing the new film. Dittman was not good at keeping his chemicals fresh, so Adams learned the technical aspects through his apprenticeship, Spaulding explains. He understood (through his own research) the importance of fresh solutions, of the need to control processing times and temperatures, and the need to thoroughly wash negatives and prints. "Technical excellence was always Adams' forte and a major contributor to the power of his images," Spaulding explains (28). Adams read every technical handbook he could lay his hands on and he "began to prowl the local camera shops to investigate the rows of lenses, tripods, lights, chemicals, printing papers, cameras and film," Spaulding continued on page 29).
Adams' technical excellence led him to understand that the full range of tones "…from white to black" was required in order to represent his subject "objectively," according to the book Ansel Adams: Diving Performance (Hammond, et al., 2002, p. 75). In order to achieve the inflections required for their "emotional expression," Adams used pure bromide papers to produce the darkest of black colors, and he also used amidol, metol, and hydroquinone as ingredients in his developers, Hammond explains, to alter the intensity of the subjects being photographed. If he wanted maximum brilliance in an image he used amidol, and if he wanted greater tonal control he embraced the "…new exposure-meter technology" which helped shift the range of photographic tones "up or down the exposure scale for 'emotional amplification'," Hammond explains.
Adams' Themes and Point-of-View
There is no doubt whatsoever that the most powerful theme present in Adams' photos is the natural world and the wonders therein. In addition to his fondness -- his fervent love -- for Yosemite, Adams also adored wilderness wherever he could find it, and as a leader with the Sierra Club, he found plenty of wilderness and beauty. In 1937, he went on a road trip to the southwest with friends including Georgia O'Keefe. He went to Hopi country, Navajo country, across Arizona, Colorado, and elsewhere. The theme of the photos he captured during this sojourn included bare aspen trees (the photo is titled, Aspens, Dawn, Dolores River Canyon). And in 1941 he received a commission from…