Ansel Adams: The Master of Art in Black and White

It is hard not to think of the phrases “black and white,” “nature,” “décor,” and “art” together without thinking of Ansel Adams. Adams was one of the greatest American photographers, but also had a profound impact on the development of an environmental consciousness in the United States.

Jeffrey Pine

Born in San Francisco in 1902, Adams had a somewhat lonely childhood since he was an only child and troublesome student. He found respite in nature, but also learned of its power early on, after surviving a damaging earth quake with only a broken nose. He taught himself how to play piano, which he then pursued as a career. Playing the piano taught Adams how to use his creative and calculative abilities to hone a craft. Later, he used these skills to photograph Yosemite National Park while participating in trips hosted by the Sierra Club. Adams became especially fond of Yosemite and began working with the Sierra Club – participating and sometimes leading excursions.  On these outings he perfected his photography techniques.

Northern California Coast Redwoods

His work was first published in the 1922 Sierra Club Bulletin, and quickly gained popularity. He became a well-respected photographer across the nation, and used his influence to advocate for the National Park System and for wilderness preservation. His photos all portrayed the natural beauty of landscape and reflected his strong conservation ethic. In fact, some criticized his work for not containing any human figures, saying that this overly-idealizes nature. However, these photographs have helped conservationists permanently protect much of the land Adams photographed.

Another reason his photographs seem idealized to the modern viewer is because most of his work is in black and white. His few colored photographs were often sold to gas stations and other corporations for advertising purposes. Adams saw color photography as a way to make money, while using black and white as a medium for his art. For him, black and white more accurately portrayed nature because of the “infinite scale of values in monochrome.” At the time, color photography was just being developed and the primitive stages of the technology did not provide the same austere beauty that made his photos famous. Adams wrote in 1967 that there is a “greater sense of color through a well planned and executed black and white photograph.” It is hard to argue with him after looking at his unmatchable work in black and white.

Portrait of Ansel Adams at Work

Portrait of Ansel Adams at Work

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