“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” -Ansel Adams
The photographs of Ansel Adams’ have played a major role in making Yosemite arguably one of the most photographed National Parks in the U.S. His iconic black and white images have forever changed the way people think about Yosemite’s landscape. Yosemite, in turn, forever changed the way Ansel saw the world. There was more to his love of Yosemite then just the images that he produced, he practically grew up there. He first visited the park with his parents in 1916 when he was fourteen. His parents gave him a Kodak Brownie camera and sent him off to document the nature around him. He wrote of his first view of the valley: “The splendor of Yosemite burst upon us and it was glorious… One wonder after another descended upon us… There was light everywhere… A new era began for me.”
His first visit made a deep impression and he returned in 1921 for a summer position as the curator of LeConte Memorial Lodge, the Sierra Club Building and Yosemite’s first Visitor Center. In this position he was able to lead guided tours and backcountry excursions throughout the park. He spent his summer exploring the park, frequently photographing and playing one of two pianos in the Yosemite Valley. It’s hard to believe but while Ansel loved photography, it was only a hobby. He was an aspiring concert pianist at the time, and access to the piano was even more important to him than his camera.
Yosemite inspired him photographically and musically and also provided the opportunity for him to meet his wife, Virginia Best. Adams states in his autobiography, “I was first attracted to [Virginia’s Father] Mr. Best’s piano, and soon-there-after, to his seventeen-year-old daughter.” Virginia and Ansel shared a mutual love of music and Yosemite, and quickly became friends. Seven years of courtship passed before Ansel and Virginia were married in front of the fireplace of Best’s Studio, her father’s Photography studio, on January 2, 1928. It was Mr. Best’s studio that he inherited and made his living as a photographer.
He spent countless days over the rest of his life hiking and photographing during every season in the park. During one excursion, he wrote the following letter to his future wife:
“Any ‘news’ in the ordinary sense would be an insipid blur of thought—I would much rather send you some little hint of mood—something that echoes, though ever so slightly, the primal song of the wilderness—the whisper of silver winds in the lonely forest–the hollow chant of falling waters. “—Ansel Adams: Letters and Images
Ansel Adams spent so much time immersed in the landscape, I often wonder what other images he created as he was growing as a man and photographer in Yosemite. We’ve all seen his iconic images of Half Dome, El Capitan and the Yosemite Valley, but with as many years as he spent photographing there, he must have created thousands of images of lesser known locations inside the park. What else did Ansel see? Lynn Hoffmann-Brouse is the instructor for RMSP’s workshop in Yosemite and her images of the park include many of the vast landscapes but also many small vignettes; views of life within the park. If you were to take a trip to Yosemite and photograph, what hidden gems would you discover with your camera in hand? What are the chances that Ansel Adams looked at the very same scene as a young man and amateur photographer?
If you have images of Yosemite you’d like to share join the RMSP group on Flickr add them to our pool. Don’t forget to add the tag” Yosemite.” We’ll highlight them in a future post on the blog.
- Ansel Adams: an Autobiography. Adams, Ansel (1985).
- Ansel Adams: Letters and Images, 1916-1984. Mary Street Alinder (Editor), Andrea Gray Stillman (Editor), Ansel Adams (Photographer), Wallace Stegner(Foreword)
- Yosemite. Ansel Adams (Author), Andrea G. Stillman (Contributor), Michael L. Fischer (Contributor).
- Works by or about Ansel Adams in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- History of Ansel Adams Ansel Adams (1902–1984).
- PBS Documentary: Ansel Adams Transcript of the Ric Burns feature documentary Ansel Adams (2002).
- Official Family-Owned Website of Ansel Adams Ansel Adams — Museum Graphics.
- Official Site of Ansel Adams Ansel Adams Gallery.
- Ansel Adams Memorial Grove A restoration and preservation project of Ansel Adams in San Francisco.
- Picturing the Century — Ansel Adams Selection of photos at the National Archives.
- Records of the National Park Service — Ansel Adams Photographs 226 high-resolution photographs from National Archives Still Picture Branch.
- All Ansel Adams Images Online Center for Creative Photography (CCP) CCP at the University of Arizona has released a digital catalog of all Adams’s images.