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Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams

Arnold H. Crane. Ansel Adams, April 1969, printed by 1976. Gift of Herbert Molner.

Also known as
Ansel Easton Adams, Ansel E. Adams
Date of birth
Date of death

Photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams is best known for his expansive and precise black-and-white photographs of American landscapes. Adams was among a small handful of younger photographers embraced by Alfred Stieglitz in the 1930s, and he would go on to gain acclaim for his images of western landscapes and his exacting technique. He helped to found the California photography circle Group f/64 to advocate for this precision. Through this affiliation, he promoted the use of sharp focus across the full image and contact printing (making a print the same size as the negative, rather than enlarging from the negative). Cropping, or printing from only a portion of the negative, was frowned upon; but extensive work with light and chemicals in the darkroom was considered perfectly acceptable and even necessary to reach aesthetic perfection. Adams expounded his views for decades in photography workshops, technical manuals and lectures or writings to accompany a prolific printing and exhibition setup. An ardent naturalist, he also served on the board of directors of the Sierra Club for many years and used his work to promote environmentalist causes.

Ansel Adams found an early promoter of his work in Katharine Kuh (American, 1904–1994), an Art Institute curator and critic who, before joining the museum, operated a fine arts gallery from 1935 to 1943. At her gallery, Kuh showed a mix of painters, mostly abstract, and photographers such as Adams and Edward Weston. In 1959, when she was relocating from Chicago to New York City, Kuh gave more than two dozen early works by Adams to the Art Institute. The Art Institute has highlighted Adams’s work in a number of exhibitions, including the 2007 show The Earth As It Was: Photographs by Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, and William Clift. A 1983 Art Institute exhibition sought to recreate Adams’s 1936 show at Stieglitz’s gallery An American Place, which Adams referred to as the finest he ever had.

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