February 20

This Day in History

Old West

Feb 20, 1902:

Ansel Adams is born

The famous western photographer Ansel Adams is born in San Francisco. Adams' dramatic black and white images of Yosemite and the West are some of the most widely recognized and admired photographs of the 20th century.

Ansel Adams discovered his love of photography and the West during a family trip to Yosemite when he was 14 years old. He made his first photographs of the dramatic Yosemite Valley during that trip, and he returned to photograph the park every year thereafter for the rest of his life.

Adams soon developed a tremendous passion and talent for photography, though it remained only a hobby for many years. From childhood, Adams had studied piano, and as a young man he embarked on a promising career as a concert pianist. It was only when he was in his late 20s that Adams decided to abandon music and make a career out of photography instead, choosing to make the West the focus of his work. During the next 20 years, Adams' distinctive treatment of the western landscape won him a dedicated following, especially among the growing community of outdoor enthusiasts in California. Today his majestic portraits of the snow-covered Yosemite Valley and haunting images of Saguaro cacti under an Arizona moon are so familiar as to almost be visual cliches. It is hard to remember that when Adams first published them, the pictures had a crystalline purity that few other nature photographers had achieved.

A dedicated conservationist, Adams deliberately used his photos to inspire a semi-religious reverence for the natural world that he hoped would encourage more Americans to protect and preserve wilderness. A lifelong member of the Sierra Club, Adams provided images for many of the club's early publications in the 1960s.

Besides being a brilliant artist, Adams was also a technical innovator and a teacher. Along with several other photographers, Adams founded "Group f/64," which was dedicated to promoting deep-focus photography and the use of "straight" images free from darkroom trickery. He created a number of innovative photographic techniques that he introduced to the general public through a series of books and an annual workshop in Yosemite.

In recognition of his lifelong efforts supporting the national park system, Mt. Ansel Adams in Yosemite was named in his honor shortly after he died in 1984.

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