Ansel Easton Adams (1902-1984) was a photographer and environmentalist revered for his black-and-white landscape photographs of the western United States, and his commitment to the conservation of those lands. He helped establish photography as an art form.
Adams took his first photographs of Yosemite Valley, California in 1916, but it was not until 1930 that he decided to make a career of photography. In the late 1920's he began work as an official photographer for the Sierra Club.
Adams' images were first used for environmental purposes when the Sierra Club was seeking the creation of a national park in the Kings River region of the Sierra Nevada. Adams lobbied Congress for a Kings Canyon National Park, the Club's priority issue in the 1930's, and created an impressive, limited-edition book, Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail, which influenced both Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and President Franklin Roosevelt to embrace the Kings Canyon Park idea. The park was created in 1940.
In 1968 Adams was awarded the Conservation Service Award, the Interior Department's highest civilian honor, "in recognition of your many years of distinguished work as a photographer, artist, interpreter and conservationist, a role in which your efforts have been of profound importance in the conservation of our great natural resources." In 1980 Adams received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for "his efforts to preserve this country's wild and scenic areas, both on film and on earth. Drawn to the beauty of nature's monuments, he is regarded by environmentalists as a national institution."
Adams was often criticized for not including humans in his photographs and for representing an idealized wilderness that no longer exists. However, it is in large part thanks to Adams that these pristine areas have been protected for years to come.
Why was Ansel Adams revered by Americans as no other artist or conservationist has been? William Turnage explains: "More than any other influential American of his epoch, Adams believed in both the possibility and the probability of humankind living in harmony and balance with its environment."
Ansel Adams was a dedicated artist-activist, playing a seminal role in the growth of an environmental consciousness in the U.S. and the development of a citizen environmental movement. His photographs continue to inspire the artist and conservationist alike.