Ansel Adams: Conserving America

Ansel Adams, who was born on this day 112 years ago, was devoted to conserving the beauty of the American landscape through his photography.
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Ansel Adams, who was born on this day 112 years ago, was devoted to conserving the beauty of the American landscape through his photography.
Ansel Adams with his large format camera in Point Lobos, California. (September 3, 1979) (Getty)

Ansel Adams with his large format camera in Point Lobos, California. (September 3, 1979) (Getty)

Ansel Adams, who was born on this day 112 years ago, was devoted to conserving the beauty of the American landscape through his photography.

Adams said he always felt “more responsive to wild environments than to urban [ones]." Having grown up in San Francisco and home schooled for most of his life, Adams developed a quick love for nature. "The surf and dunes, the storms and fogs of the Golden Gate, the thickets of Lobos Creek and the grim headlands of Land’s End...Such early images are often as clear and compelling in memory as the actual vistas of today,"he said.

But it was a trip to Yosemite National Park in 1916 that forever took hold of Adams's heart. Of the trip Adams once recounted, "In the bright morning [we took] the grand, dusty, jolting ride in an open motor bus up the deepening, greening gorge to Yosemite. That first impression of the valley…was a culmination of experience so intense as to be almost painful. From that day in 1916, my life has been colored and modulated by the great earth gesture of the Sierra.”

From that moment on Adams became the unofficial spokesman for the American landscape. His photography showed Americans—and the rest of the world—an array of intimate landscapes that many had never seen before. But he never intended to just be a "landscape photographer."

“The effect of the natural scene on the artist is an emotional one," he said. "Photographing ‘scenery’ is the very thing I don’t believe in, because that’s often a two-dimensional affair. So the element of immediate, emotional impact is very important.”