Ansel Adams, An Autobiography


Ansel Easton Adams (February 20, 1902 – April 22, 1984) was an American photographer and environmentalist, best known for his black-and-white photographs of the American West and primarily Yosemite National Park.
For his images, he developed the
zone system of photography, a way to calculate the proper exposure of a photograph. The resulting clarity and depth were characteristic of his photographs. His crystal clear images were also the result of his using the large format 8×10 film camera, which provided a maximum resolution, although it was among the most difficult cameras to use due to its large size, weight, set-up time, and film cost. However, it was typical of the lengths he would go to achieve his vision of perfection.
He founded the
Group f/64 along with fellow photographers Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, which was responsible for the founding of the Museum of Modern Art's department of photography. Adams' timeless and visually stunning photographs are constantly reproduced on calendars, posters, and in books, making his photographs widely recognizable. And as a result, his images are among the most significant and familiar contributions to the history of photography.



I believe that the artist and his art are only a part of the total human experience; the viewer in the world at large is the essential other part. I feel that a true work of art is like nothing else in the world. It is not essential to know how the artist thinks or how he believes he relates to his profession or his society. What he creates is his message. For me a work of art does not cry for comprehension, only for reaction at the level of art itself. (137)

When Ansel Adams wrote there lines, he was visiting the O’Keeffe and filming there. All his experience and conversations with O’Keeffe opened his mind to the art world. In Ansel Adams’ eye, O’Keeffe was a genius woman, and she with her great paintings gave a lot of advices and inspires about human and art, which helped a lot in his career of photography. Like what he said, art is not a matter of what’s in it or how it acyually looks like, but it depends on how people understand the meaning in it. Ansel Adams likes to choose the beautiful landscapes as the theme of his photos, but the viewers who really understand them are those who can tell what Ansel tries to say. Maybe it’s about nature, as what he usually shows in his works.


A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed, and is, thereby, a true manifestation of what one feels about life in its entirety. This visual expression of feeling should be set forth in terms of a simple devotion to the medium. It should be a statement of the greatest clarity and perfection possible under the conditions of its creation and production. (235)


In 1982, Ansel Adams attended the “The Friends of Photography”, which he had his exhibition of “The Unknown Ansel Adams”. At this point, he started to think more about what the photograph itself expressed to the people. During those years, he tried really hard to create the simple image that delivers the thoughts and ideas to its viewers. A nice image should involve less things but more meanings in it. Ansel Adams also showed his approach to photography by his pictures. His pure belief in nature and people is the main idea, along with his happiness and faith in art work.


I resent being told that certain things have significance; that is for me, as spectator, to discover. I resent being manipulated into a politico-social formula of thought and existence. I resent the implications that unless photography has a politico-social function it is not of value to people at large. I resent the very obvious dislike of elements of beauty; our friend Steichen has shocked me time and again by a self-conscious fear of the beautiful. (269)

These lines are from a letter Ansel Adams wrote to Dorothea Lange, a lady photographer friend he met in the organization of FSA (Farm Security Administration). He considered Dorothea a great artist and woman, and he did enjoy working with her. In this letter, he expressed his thoughts about how photographs were the pure truth and freedom on his mind. Ansel Adams was the person who didn’t like to be controlled or forced on something, but he liked the way of briefness, cleanness and natural elements, which he always tried to show in his works. On this point, he often talked with Dorothea about these feelings, and they had a lively correspondence in the understanding of photography.


Adams, Ansel . ANSEL ADAMS, An Autobiography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1985.
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