Ansel Adams (1902-1984) was a groundbreaking photographer credited with devising the ‘zone system’ technique (a method of concentrating light on negatives to control the look of finished pictures) and the ‘theory of visualization’ (the act of measuring a scene’s light to imagine a finished photo). He is most famously known for his black and white photo series of the Yosemite Valley in California. He also authored many instructional books defining and developing his theories.
At twelve years old, Adams dropped out of school to educate himself. Although his original dream was to be a concert pianist, Ansel Adams took up photography after seeing photographer Paul Strand’s work. Throughout his lifetime, Adams oscillated between photography and piano playing.
As a member of the Sierra Club, Ansel Adams was a passionate environmentalist, committed to capturing images of unfettered terrain. When the U.S. government was interning Japanese-Americans during WWII, he travelled to Manzanar. His photos of those interned became a famous photo-documentary that was eventually mounted in the Museum of Modern Art.
Over his lifetime, Ansel Adams received many prestigious awards. Not only did the President of UC Berkeley, Clark Kerr, commission a photo commemoration of the University on its 100th year anniversary, but he also became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1966. Of all the accolades Adams received, the most distinguished was the Presidential Medal of Freedom that Jimmy Carter awarded him in 1980. This Medal is the most renowned distinction a civilian can receive.
Although Ansel Adams died in 1984 of cancer induced heart failure, he left behind a lasting legacy that will forever influence the world of photography. His fame has made his name internationally recognized and, therefore, widely used. In the year that Adams died, the Minarets Wilderness was renamed Ansel Adams Wilderness. The next year, in 1985, a peak in the Sierra Nevada was deemed Mount Ansel Adams.