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Mt. Ansel Adams (11,780 ft.)
Named by Sierra Club in 1934
Adams first saw and photographed this peak in September 1921, when he described
it as 'undoubtedly inaccessible.' On a Sierra Club outing in 1934, the peak
was climbed for the first time by three men, who unofficially named it for
Adams. Two days later, July 13, 1934, dedication ceremonies were conducted
on the summit by a party of 15, including Ansel Adams and his wife Virgina.
SCB 11, no. 3, 1922: 315-16, photo opp. p. 258; and SCB 20, no.
1, Feb 1935; 104-5, photo place VI.)"
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada
"The sheer majesty of the photographs of Ansel Adams defy even the artist's own description. For the classics like 'Moonrise,' 'Hernandez and Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite Valley,' words have little use. You've seen the images many times before -- the low sweep of sun over the crosses of a New Mexican churchyard, moon ascending into evening sky; snow clouds swirling around El Capitan and Half Dome as Bridalveil Fall leaps out in spotlighted silver spray -- these pictures are not mere photographs. They are icons, definitions of the American landscape too grand to be random, simple dispersals of silver halide on a plain plastic sheet. Perhaps Ansel Adams did get to these places 'just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter' -- if not, one might wager God would have made the photographs Himself.
Ansel Easton Adams entered the world Feb. 20, 1902. Growing up in a home built on the sand dunes overlooking San Francisco's Baker Beach, nature left an indelible mark on him. His nose broken by a backyard tumble during an aftershock of the San Francisco earthquake of April 1906, Adams went through life looking 'like a portrait begun by El Greco and finished by Goya,' as biographer Nancy Newhall noted in 'The Eloquent Light.' Growing up in a world where nature's rhythms took precedence over the city's low rumble, the gifted, undisciplined Adams found himself at odds with traditional learning. Profoundly moved by beauty, a life in the arts seemed predisposed. Music was the first love. The discipline involved in classic piano training had positive effects. 'Perfection was beginning to mean something to me,' Adams recalled.
But ultimately the scales that would mean the most were the shades between black and white, where Adams perfected his stunning approach to photography. Adams' first camera, a simple No. 1 Box Brownie, arrived concurrent with his family's first vacation in Yosemite National Park in June 1916. Thirty years later, Adams recalled his initial visit in 'Yosemite and the High Sierra':
'That first impression of the valley; white water, azaleas, cool fir caverns, tall pines and stolid oaks, cliffs rising to undreamed-of heights, the poignant sounds and smells of the Sierra, the whirling flourish of the stage stop at Camp Curry ... was a culmination of experience so intense as to be almost painful.'
Yosemite became an annual pilgrimage, Adams exploring the high country to pour onto photographic plates images reflecting his wonder and ecstasy. A summer job as custodian of LeConte Memorial Lodge, the Sierra Club's Yosemite headquarters, came in 1919. Adams made scores of lifelong friends. Among the first was Cedric Wright, a fellow musician and photographer. Wright introduced Adams to Albert Bendfer, prominent patron of the San Francisco arts, who in turn supported Adams' first published work in 1926. 'Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras,' an edition of 100 portfolios, reflected the bias of the day. Publisher Jean Chambers Moore refused to use the word 'photograph' in the title. 'At that time creative photography was not considered commercially viable, as hardly anyone considered it to be a fine art,' Adams recalled in his autobiography. 'Family and friends would say 'Do not give up your music; the camera cannot express the human soul.' 'Perhaps the camera cannot,' I replied, 'but the photographer can.''
Married in 1928 to Virginia Best, daughter of Yosemite studio owner Harry Best, the Adams family grew to include two children, Michael in 1933 and Anne in 1935. Following Harry Best's death in 1936, the Adamses found themselves Yosemite concessionaires. Appalled at the commercialization of the park, the family set out to raise the quality level in the studio. One enduring souvenir, Yosemite Special Editions 8 x 10 prints from selected Adams negatives made to his specifications by assistants, remains a staple in what is now the Ansel Adams Gallery.
The vision begun in Yosemite was honed to a fine edge in ensuing years. Adams' move toward straight photographic purity brought national recognition with a landmark exhibit at Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keefe's An American Place gallery in 1936. In concert with other Western photographers, most notably Edward Weston, Adams legitimized fine art photography.
A Sierra Club activist and self-described 'constructive belligerent,' Adams had a direct hand in creating Kings Canyon National Park with his early lobbying efforts and publication of 'The Sierra Nevada and The John Muir Trail' in 1938. Adams was still going strong in the 1980s, leading a drive to oust Interior Secretary James Watt for halting 100 years of growth of the National Park System.
As a craftsman and instructor, Adams redefined the practice of black-and-white photography. His Zone System, an intriguing blend of art and science, brought new levels of sophistication to photographic technique.
Yet no matter how far Adams took his art and activism, he always came home to the mountains. It was only fitting that a mountain in the high country behind Yosemite be named in Adams' honor following his death on April 22, 1984.
'How different my life would have been if it were not for those early hikes in the Sierra,' Adams wrote in his twilight years ' . . .If I had not experienced that memorable first trip to Yosemite -- if I had not been raised by the ocean ... it is difficult to explain the magic:
'These qualities to which I still deeply respond were distilled into my pictures over the decades.
'I knew my destiny when I first experienced Yosemite."
-Modesto Bee (online)
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Ansel Adams
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:02:14 2007
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