Ansel Adams, (born February 20, 1902, San Francisco - died April 22, 1984, Carmel), may be considered the most important, widely known, and beloved landscape photographer of our time. Adams’s most important work was devoted to what appeared to be the country’s remaining fragments of untouched wilderness, especially in national parks and other protected areas of the American West. He was also a vigorous and outspoken leader of the conservation movement. When Adams was young he was a hopeless, rebellious student, but once his father bowed to the inevitable and removed him from school at age 12, he proved a remarkable autodidact.
Throughout the 1920s, when he worked as the custodian of the Sierra Club’s lodge in Yosemite National Park, he created impressive landscape photographs. During this period, he formed a powerful devotion to Yosemite Valley and to the high sierra that guarded the valley on the east.
A conservationist since adolescence, from 1934 to 1971 Adams served as a director of the Sierra Club. Many of the books Adams generated in his later career were concerned not only with the art of photography but also with the goal of raising awareness for the campaign to preserve the natural landscape and the life it supported. The most notable of these was This Is the American Earth(1960; with Newhall), published by the Sierra Club. It was one of the essential books in the reawakening of the conservation movement of the 1960s and ’70s, along with Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There (1949) and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring(1962).
The Portfolios of Ansel Adams (1977) reproduced the 90 prints that Adams first published (between 1948 and 1976) as seven portfolios of original prints. The results can thus be trusted to represent a selection from what the photographer considered his best work.
In 1980 Adams was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter. Acknowledging Adams’s years of work as both a photographer and an environmentalist, the president’s citation said, “It is through [Adams’s] foresight and fortitude that so much of America has been saved for future Americans.”