Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco, California, in February 1902. His family was of Irish origin, having migrated to the United States in the 1700s. Adams had a problematic childhood. He was dismissed from more than one school for unacceptable behavior. In the end, he was educated at home. In 1916, Adams visited Yosemite National Park, where he was inspired to experiment with photography. In the years that followed, Adams perfected his craft, eventually becoming the most important photographer of the American West, particularly of Yosemite National Park. His iconic black-and-white photographs are a pictorial testament to the majesty of the American West, captured with technical accuracy, sheer inventiveness, and deep empathy for the regions. Today, the work of Adams is considered fine art, shown in galleries and museums all over America, where it offers a visual feast and a source of delight. Following a long and interesting career, Adams died at the age of 82, in Monterey, California, on April 22, 1984.


A nsel Adams is best known for a series of photographs he took of America’s natural heritage, known collectively as the National Park Service Photographs, representative examples of which are reproduced here. This assignment was especially commissioned in 1941 by Harold Ickes of the United States Department of the Interior, and the aim was to record for posterity areas that had been designated national parks, as well as the Native American homelands and other monuments and areas of reclamation of the great American wilderness. These would also be used as photo-murals to decorate the walls of the Department of the Interior. Ickes was already familiar with Ansel’s work, having seen detailed studies of leaves and ferns that had featured in an exhibition of 1936. Indeed, he liked them so much that he hung one in his own office. He eventually came to know Ansel when the photographer

came to lobby Congress, seeking to have Kings River Canyon, California, designated a national park. Originally, only painted murals by established artists were thought worthy of the Mural Project, as it came to be known, as photography was not yet considered worthy to be called art but merely a way of recording or documenting reality; but Ickes was convinced that Ansel’s work was artistically valid and would make its own inimitable contribution to the scheme. Unfortunately, due to the ever-increasing threat of war that was looming on the horizon, the project was shelved after a year, but not before Ansel had produced a series of dramatic photographs. The commission came as a godsend to Ansel, being not only a commercial proposition but also one that allowed him to engage in his

two favorite pursuits, exploring his country’s natural legacy and taking photographs, which would help 7

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