Asked to think of a truly great artist, most of us would probably find names like Picasso, Van Gogh, Da Vinci and Rembrandt springing to mind. In this day and age, despite the modern trend for conceptual art, most people still associate the word "artist" with something quite specific; a person in a paint-smattered smock, creating a masterpiece at their easel with brushes and oils.
Of course, if photographers like Ansel Adams have anything to teach us, it’s that great art doesn’t have to exist on a canvas.
The Early Years
Born in San Francisco in 1902, Ansel Adams was a shy child, bullied at school for his hyperactive behaviour and crooked nose, which was broken during an earthquake when he was flung against a garden wall. Adams took solace in nature, spending much time wandering outdoors, and also had a great love for music, teaching himself to play the piano and read music at the age of 12. But it wasn’t until he was 14 that Adams began experimenting with photography, after a trip to Yosemite National Park.
Over the next decade, Adams developed his skills and started displaying and selling some of his early photos at a studio in Yosemite Valley, later marrying Virginia Best, the daughter of the studio’s owner.
In 1927, Adams experienced his first career success, when he released a series of black and white landscape photographs entitled "Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras" – photos which are still celebrated in the art world today. He went on to have his first New York show in 1933, and published the successful book "Making a Photographer" in 1935. In the same year, Virginia’s father died, and the couple inherited his Yosemite Valley studio, operating it until 1971. Today it is called the Ansel Adams Gallery and is open to visitors seven days a week.
Over the course of his career, Ansel Adams became known for his striking black and white landscape photos of the American West – just like the ones featured in "Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras". The majority of his most celebrated photos are sweeping vistas of mountains, tree-lines, lakes and dramatic skies, with moody, high-contrast shots such as “Moon and Half Dome” and “Aspens” being particular favourites amongst Adams aficionados.
It’s also worth noting that Adams – though best-known for his black and white shots, and despite struggling with the medium – also took numerous colour photographs. Adams likened working in colour to playing an out-of-tune piano, and talked about how he felt he had more freedom when working in greyscale. Of course, to the untrained eye, his colour shots seem just as beautiful and captivating as those in black and white.
The Zone System
Part of what made Ansel Adams so influential in the art world is that he was not just a talented photographer, but a true pioneer, fascinated with the craft and theory that went into taking photographs. At the end of the 1930s, Adams and his friend Fred Archer worked together to develop the Zone System, a photographic technique that would help determine optimal film exposure and development.
This technique enabled Adams to achieve the impactful, high contrast look that made his photographs so iconic. Though not still widely used today, the Zone System was very influential at the time and is still considered a useful tool by many modern-day photographers.
Ansel Adams the Environmentalist
As reflected in his work, Ansel Adams was also a keen nature-lover, and an influential environmentalist who campaigned tirelessly for the preservation of wild areas such as Yosemite. Over the course of his life, Adams fought against the over-development of national parks, led crusades for the protection of endangered species, and campaigned for clean air and water.
Inspiring Ansel Adams Quotes
"A good photograph is knowing where to stand."
"A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words."
"You don’t take a photograph, you make it."
"There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs."
"We must remember that a photograph can hold just as much as we put into it, and no one has ever approached the full possibilities of the medium."
"Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment."
"There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept."
Today, anyone who has a smartphone can be an amateur photographer – and with apps like Instagram widely available, it’s easier than ever to crop, filter and edit your snaps into mini masterpieces.
The question is whether or not something has been lost in the transition to digital photography; with so many devices to store our photos, many people don’t see the value in having their images printed. Back when Adams was still working, this was unthinkable – after all, a photograph couldn’t be seen until its negatives were taken into a darkroom and carefully developed.
At EzeFrame we’d like to see more people printing their photos and hanging them in their homes and offices, and that’s why we’ve made it so easy to order custom-made picture frames, picture mounts and multi-aperture frames online.
Ordering with EzeFrame
If you’ve recently purchased a photograph, or decided to print off some of your own snaps, why not head to EzeFrame’s picture frames and mounts page. Here you can customise your own frame and mount, choosing a colour scheme and framing material that will suit your photograph perfectly. What’s more, your frame will be dispatched within one to three days, guaranteed.