Born Ansel Easton Adams
February 20, 1902
San Francisco, California,
Died April 22, 1984 (aged 82)
Education Private schools, home school
Occupation Photographer and Conservationist
Spouse(s) Virginia Rose Best
Parents Charles Hitchcock Adams and Olive Bray Adams
Ansel Easton Adams (February 20, 1902 – April 22, 1984) was an American photographer and environmentalist best known for his black-and-white landscape photographs of the American West, especially of Yosemite National Park.
With Fred Archer, Adams developed the Zone System as a way to determine proper exposure and adjust the contrast of the final print. The resulting clarity and depth characterized his photographs and the work of those to whom he taught the system. Adams primarily used large-format cameras despite their size, weight, setup time, and film cost, because their high resolution helped ensure sharpness in his images.
Adams founded the Group f/64 along with fellow photographers Willard Van Dyke and Edward Weston. Adams’s photographs are reproduced on calendars, posters, and in books, making his photographs widely distributed.
Adams was born in the Western Addition of San Francisco, California, to distinctly upper-class parents Charles Hitchcock Adams and Olive Bray Adams. He was an only child and was named after his uncle Ansel Easton. His mother’s family came from Baltimore and his maternal grandfather had a successful freight-hauling business, but squandered his wealth in failed mining and real estate ventures in Nevada. The Adams family came from New England, having migrated from the north of Ireland in the early 18th century. His grandfather founded and built a prosperous lumber business, which his father later ran, though his father’s natural talents lay more with sciences than with business. Later in life, Adams would condemn that very same industry for cutting down many of the great redwood forests.
In 1903, his family moved 2 miles (3 km) west to a new home near the Seacliff neighborhood, just south of the Presidio Army Base. The home had a “splendid view” of the Golden Gate and the Marin Headlands. San Francisco was devastated by the April 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Uninjured in the initial shaking, the four-year-old Ansel Adams was tossed face-first into a garden wall during an aftershock three hours later, breaking his nose. Among his earliest memories was watching the smoke from the ensuing fire that destroyed much of the city a few miles to the east. Although a doctor recommended that his nose be re-set once he reached maturity, this was never done; as a result, Adams’s nose remained crooked for his entire life.
Adams was a hyperactive child and prone to frequent sickness and hypochondria. He had few friends, but his family home and surroundings on the heights facing the Golden Gate provided ample childhood activities. Although he had no patience for games or sports, the curious child took to nature at an early age, collecting bugs and exploring Lobos Creek all the way to Baker Beach and the sea cliffs leading to Lands End, “San Francisco’s wildest and rockiest coast, a place strewn with shipwrecks and rife with landslides.”
His father bought a three-inch telescope and they enthusiastically shared the hobby of amateur astronomy, visiting the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton together. His father went on to serve as the paid secretary-treasurer of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific from 1925 to 1950.
After the death of Ansel’s grandfather and the aftermath of the Panic of 1907, his father’s business suffered great financial losses. Some of the induced near-poverty was because Ansel’s Uncle Ansel Easton and Cedric Wright’s father, George Wright, had secretly sold their shares of the company to the Hawaiian Sugar Trust for a large amount of money, “knowingly providing the controlling interest.”  By 1912, the family’s standard of living had dropped sharply. After young Ansel was dismissed from several private schools for his restlessness and inattentiveness, his father decided to pull him out of school in 1915, at the age of 12. Adams was then educated by private tutors, his Aunt Mary, and by his father. His Aunt Mary was a follower of Robert G. Ingersoll, a 19th-century agnostic, abolitionist and women’s suffrage advocate. As a result of his aunt’s influence, Ingersoll’s teachings were important to Ansel’s upbringing. During the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, his father insisted that, as part of his education, Adams spend part of each day studying the exhibits. After a while, Adams resumed and then completed his formal education by attending the Mrs. Kate M. Wilkins Private School, until he graduated from eighth grade on June 8, 1917. In his later years, he displayed his diploma in the guest bathroom of his home.
His father raised him to follow the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson: to live a modest, moral life guided by a social responsibility to man and to nature. Adams had a warm, loving and supportive relationship with his father, but had a distant relationship with his mother, who did not approve of his interest in photography. The day after the death of his mother in 1950, Ansel broke into a dispute with the undertaker when choosing which casket his mother would be buried in. Ansel chose the cheapest in the room, a two-hundred sixty-dollar affair that seemed the least he could purchase without doing the job himself. When the undertaker remarked, “Have you no respect for the dead?” He replied, “One more crack like that and I will take Mama elsewhere.”