Ansel Adams, Photographer

By William Turnage, Reprinted courtesy of the author and Oxford University Press
Ansel Adams, photographer and environmentalist, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Charles Hitchcock Adams, a businessman, and Olive Bray. The grandson of a wealthy timber baron, Adams grew up in a house set amid the sand dunes of the Golden Gate. When Adams was only four, an aftershock of the great earthquake and fire of 1906 threw him to the ground and badly broke his nose, distinctly marking him for life. A year later the family fortune collapsed in the financial panic of 1907, and Adams’s father spent the rest of his life doggedly but fruitlessly attempting to recoup. An only child, Adams was born when his mother was nearly forty. His relatively elderly parents, affluent family history, and the live-in presence of his mother’s maiden sister and aged father all combined to create an environment that was decidedly Victorian and both socially and emotionally conservative. Adams’s mother spent much of her time brooding and fretting over her husband’s inability to restore the Adams fortune, leaving an ambivalent imprint on her son. Charles Adams, on the other hand, deeply and patiently influenced, encouraged, and supported his son.

Ansel Anecdotes

The story of the making of the photograph Moonrise, Hernandez , New Mexico is legendary. Ansel's description in Examples: The Making of Forty Photographs is oft repeated, and quite dramatic. We have brought together several vignettes that put a little more perspective on what let up to the dramatic moment on a lonely highway at 4:05 PM (local time), October 31, 1941.

Ansel Adams: The Role of the Artist in the Environmental Movement

by ROBERT TURNAGE, March 1980
Reprinted courtesy of the Wilderness Society from The Living Wilderness
In the history of American conservation, few have worked as long and as effectively to preserve wilderness and to articulate the “wilderness idea” as Ansel Adams. Entering his seventh decade of active involvement, he remains as much a crusader. Wilderness has always been for Adams “a mystique: a valid, intangible, non-materialistic experience.” Through his photographs he has touched countless people with a sense of that mystique and a realization of the importance of preserving the last remaining wilderness lands. This inspirational legacy of Adams ' art constitutes his major significance as an environmentalist. In addition, he has been an important activist in the work of several conservation groups and has personally lobbied congressmen, cabinet officers and Presidents on behalf of wilderness values. Ansel Adams was born on February 20, 1902, in San Francisco and grew up in the dunes area by the Golden Gate . In those days the Pacific surf and fog were a much more evident influence than the surrounding city. Ansel's earliest memory is of lying in his carriage watching low fog move across the sky.