Ansel Adams

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Ansel Adams: 100+1
June 12 – August 22, 2003

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is one of the most widely recognized and critically acclaimed artists of all-time, best known for his photographs of the American wilderness. He was born in San Francisco, California. His father decided to remove him from school in 1915, educating him instead by private tutors. Adams studied music for many years, and his original passion was to become a concert pianist, but became interested in photography after seeing the work of Paul Strand.

As a teenager, Adams joined the Sierra Club, an organization devoted to the preservation of the natural world. He remained a member and a champion of the group's cause throughout his life. While visiting Yosemite in 1927, Adams photographed Half Dome and experienced a realization about the role photography was to have in his life — that through the visual language of images, he could distill and express the beauty of the American wilderness. His work as an artist also served his goals as an environmentalist, preserving what the national parks were like before greater human presence. It was his book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail, published in the 1930s, that played a major role in the designation of Sequoia and Kings Canyon as national parks.

A series of commercial and critical successes followed throughout his illustrious career. He began to present his work in museums and galleries, and with Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston co-founded Group f/64, an organization devoted to what they termed "straight photography", in opposition to the earlier trend of pictorialism in the field. In 1952, Adams was among the founding members of Aperture magazine. He was the recipient of three Guggenheim fellowships and in 1966 was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1980, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.

Ansel Adams died in 1984. That year, the Minarets Wilderness area located in the Inyo National Forest was renamed the Ansel Adams Wilderness in his honor. The following year, a peak in the Sierra Nevada was named Mount Ansel Adams on his behalf. John Szarkowski, Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, writes in his introduction to Ansel Adams: Classic Images, "the love that Americans poured out for the work and person of Ansel Adams during his old age, and that they have continued to express with undiminished enthusiasm since his death, is an extraordinary phenomenon, perhaps even unparalleled in our country's response to a visual artist."