In 1864, Abraham Lincoln passed a bill granting
Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the State
of Calfornia. In 1890, John Muir wrote glowing
descriptions of Yosemite Valley, and in 1892, he
invited Theodore Roosevelt on a camping trip to show
him the beauties before they were lost. This trip led to
Roosevelt's protecting Yosemite by declaring it a
But it wasn’t until Ansel Adams (1902-1984) began
photographing in the Yosemite Valley that the general
public formed a concept of the wild mountains, fertile
valleys and rushing rivers of the Far West. That led to
a widespread interest in preserving their beauty.
Adams grew up in San Francisco in a family that had
come from New England. His family was in the
lumber business—a business he’d later condemn for
depleting the redwood forests.
An injury in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 left
him with a broken nose which never healed straight.
Hyperactive and sickly, he had behavior trouble in
school and was educated at home from the age of 12.
He taught himself piano and photography. He first
visited Yosemite Valley at 14 with a Brownie box
"From that day," he wrote, "my life has been colored
and modulated by the great earth-gesture of the
For a time, he was torn between becoming a concert
pianist and photographing the Sierra Nevada. His first
famous shot was Monolith, the Face of Half Dome,
his last shot after a long day of climbing and shooting
"It was a picture that for Ansel came to represent a
moment when he had made a great leap forward,"
according to John Szarkowski, diector emeritus of the
department of photography of the Museum of Modern
Art and author of Ansel Adams at 100.
In 1928, he married Virginia Best, daughter of the
proprietor of Best’s Studio in Yosemite Valley, where
Adams sold his early photographs. Upon the death of
her father in 1935, Virginia inherited the studio and
she and Ansel operated it until 1971.
Known today as the Ansel Adams Gallery, it remains
in the family.
His first published portfolio brought him success,
which grew from 1929-1942 as he added detailed
close-ups to his large forms.
He got to know Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz and
Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico. Like Dorothea
Lange, he photographed the Manzanar internment
camp during World War II, but many of his photos
were beautiful renditions of its scenic backdrop, and
they empihasized the resiliance of the Japanese more
than the human impact of the camps.
Adams has become one of the best-known
photographers in the world and the subject of a
documentary film, A collection of his first portfolio
recently was sold by Christie's for $97,000.
Ansel Adams (top); Yosemite National Park (center), detail
of a standing pool (left).
President Theodore Roosevelt (left) camping
with John Muir in Yosemite before declaring it
a national park.