Museum Exhibit: Ansel Adams

This past weekend I went to the North Caroline Museum of Art to see a photographic exhibit by Ansel Adams, fifty-two his photographs that he thought were among his best.

Ansel Adams (February 20, 1902 – April 22, 1984) was an American photographer and environmentalist. His black and white photographs of the American west, with an emphasis on Yosemite National Park, are instantly recognizable.

He was born in San Francisco, moving with his family when he was four to a home just south of the Presidio Army base. He experienced the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which destroyed the city. He was tossed face-first into a garden wall during an aftershock, breaking his nose, which was never reset.  He was a hyperactive child and was dismissed from several private schools for being restless and inattentive (ADHD?). His father decided to pull him out of school in 1915 at age 12, after which he was educated by private tutors, his aunt Mary, and by his father. His father raised him to follow the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson: to live a modest, moral life guided by a social responsibility to man and to nature.












The Grand Tetons and the Snake River

As a child, he studied the piano and intended music to be his adult profession. However, a trip to Yosemite with his family and the gift of a Kodak Brownie box camera changed his goals. He returned to Yosemite on his own with a better camera and tripod and then learned basic darkroom technique working part-time for a San Francisco photo finisher. His first photographs were published in 1921, and his early photos already showed careful composition and sensitivity to tonal balance. In the course of his 60-year career, the 1930s were a particularly productive and experimental time. He expanded his works, focusing on detailed close-ups as well as large forms from mountains to factories. In September 1941, Adams was contracted by the Department of the Interior to make photographs of National Parks, Indian reservations, and other locations for use as decoration of the department’s new building. Part of his understanding with the department was that he might also make photographs for his own use, using his own film and processing.













Half Dome at  Yosemite

Adams used the gelatin silver process for his black and white films, in which a suspension of silver salts in gelatin is coated onto glass, paper etc. These light-sensitive materials are stable under normal keeping conditions and are able to be exposed and processed even many years after their manufacture. Adams pioneered a zonal system of eleven shades of gray, ranging from black to white. The resolution in his black and white photos is astounding. He never wanted to take color photographs although he tested color film for Kodak.












This was Adams favorite tree – he photographed it many times. Unfortunately it no longer exists.


Adams lugged his 40 pound view camera wherever he went, taking pictures of whatever struck him from nature to camp children. I’m sure you will recognize some of these iconic images.

Trust me, though, to really appreciate Adams’ artistry, you need to see the photographs in person.


Camp Children






23 thoughts on “Museum Exhibit: Ansel Adams”

  1. I’ve heard of Ansel Adams, and I’ve admired some of these photos and ones like them. I don’t think I ever connected the art with the artist, though. You help me learn so much!

    1. Thanks, Diana. He’s best known for his vistas, but I’ve fallen in love with his faces (except for that darn tree, to which I’m addicted!)

    1. Thank you, Takami. I am glad you enjoyed the post. There was a lot more I could have told about him, but decided to keep it short and emphasize the photos.

  2. Fabulous post, Noelle. Thanks so much for an astounding and insightful “visit” with Ansel Adams, a most beloved American photographer and naturalist. He remains one of our favorites. 🙂 ~Bette

  3. Beautiful images from Adams, the Migrant Women is by Dorothea Lange; she was the first woman to be awarded a Guggenheim fellowship.

      1. thanks for the message, I esp love Adams images of the internment camps of WWII and of course his immense landscapes. In Australia we had interment camps as well but I am not sure if anyone documented them, nowadays no one is allowed to photograph our refuge camps. regards

        1. I never knew that – there’s been so much made of our own internment camps. I knew he had taken pictures of them, though. Why are they hidden in Australia? I know the seizing of native children for schooling occurred – and that when it was revealed to the world there was a great kerfuffle.

          1. I have found some info from WWI about Germans in camps, “The camps produced suffering, including hunger, and heartache for many families.”
            “Australia interned about 7000 residents, including more than 1500 British nationals, during World War II. A further 8000 people were sent to Australia to be interned after being detained overseas by Australia’s allies. At its peak in 1942, more than 12,000 people were interned in Australia.”
            “The harsh conditions and reports of systemic child abuse at the camps have drawn wide criticism at home and abroad.”
            A quote from the Aljazeera news, if you Google “refugee camps in Australia” there is lots to read, we have repeated histories worst deeds.
            thanks for the interest.

          2. Wow! Thanks for this information on a little known aspect of history at that time. There was a WWII German internment camp near where my husband grew up in northern New York State. The prisoners were well treated and many of them stayed on after the way.

  4. I LOVE Ansel Adams. <3 I didn't know about his history (especially about his father teaching him at home and raising 'him to follow the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson'. That explains some things I feel when I see his images.

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