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Ansel Adams | Timeline

Ansel Adams and the Age of Photography


A new method of photography is invented in France by Louise Jacques Mande Daguerre. The French government purchases the rights to the invention and makes it available to the public. Within months, clients are paying photographers to make daguerreotype portraits. Photographers are also sent on expeditions to make daguerreotypes in Russia, Egypt, and the Middle East.

A daguerreotype camera is taken along on an expedition led by John Fremont to chart the Western territories. Fremont is inexperienced with the process and obtains poor results.

John L. O'Sullivan coins the phrase, "Manifest Destiny," to justify America's Western expansion.

Ansel Adams's grandfather, William James Adams, establishes a profitable grocery business in Sacramento and San Francisco, selling goods to Gold Rush migrants.

Robert Vance holds an exhibit in New York called "Views of California." With more than 300 daguerreotypes, the exhibit receives rave reviews.

March 25: The Mariposa Battalion enters Yosemite Valley under the leadership of Lafayette Bunnell. Supported by prospectors, their mission is to remove the the Native American population in Yosemite to reservations.

John Fremont leads an expedition to California, and brings along professional photographer Solomon N. Carvalho, who successfully makes many good photographs.

James Cutting's ambrotype, a thin collodion negative on a glass plate, is developed. The wet plate process soon improves to make it possible to make paper positive prints from wet collodion glass plate negatives.

William James Adams (Ansel's grandfather) opens a lumber business, Adams & Blinn, which will become the Washington Mill Company.

Charles Weed photographs Yosemite and displays his work in Sacramento at the Fifth Annual Fair of the State Agricultural Society.

Carleton Watkins travels to Yosemite for the first time, and makes many photographs that receive critical acclaim at an exhibit in New York. These photographs inspire President Abraham Lincoln to deed Yosemite as park land to the state of California.

Olive Bray, Ansel Adams's mother, is born in Iowa while her family is going west in a wagon train.

The Bray family settles in Carson City, Nevada, where they become prominent figures in the city's social scene.

Yosemite becomes the first state park after Congress grants it to California for "public use, resort, and entertainment."

Washington legislators initiate what will become four "Great Surveys," exploring and mapping America's Western lands. Survey work will continue until 1879, and lead to the formation of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Charles Hitchcock Adams, Ansel Adams's father, is born in California.

William Henry Jackson takes photographs of Yellowstone, which are used by Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas to convince the Senate of Yellowstone's value.

Yellowstone becomes the nation's first national park.

Timothy O'Sullivan photographs the ancient ruins at Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. Ansel Adams will later call O'Sullivan's work "one of the most extraordinary photographs ever made in America."

John K. Hillers becomes the first person to photograph the Grand Canyon.

Seasonal climbing cables are erected on the back of Half Dome, Yosemite's awe-inspiring granite formation, for the first time. The cables allow adventurous souls to make a hair-raising ascent to the top.

George Eastman gets a patent for a process of manufacturing gelatine dry plates, making photographic wet plates obsolete.

Avid hunter and future president Theodore Roosevelt joins with Forest and Stream editor George Bird Grinnell to found the Boone and Crockett Club. Roosevelt begins his public career as an advocate for wilderness by mobilizing club members to defend Yellowstone park from the threats of mining and railroad interests.

George Eastman invents lightweight photographic film that does not have to be developed immediately after exposure. Photography is now more accessible to amateurs.

Due to lobbying by John Muir, Yosemite becomes a national park. Sequoia National Park is created.

Olive Bray and Charles Adams get married and settle in San Francisco.

February 20: Ansel Adams is born in San Francisco.

April 18: A powerful earthquake strikes San Francisco, followed by a fire that burns uncontrolled for three days. An area of 4.7 square miles is completely destroyed. The Adams family's home survives with little damage, because it is located on the city's outskirts. Four-year-old Ansel suffers a broken nose in an aftershock.

The Adams family loses a substantial amount of its fortune in the financial panic.

Adams's father takes Ansel out of school and tutors him at home. He also makes arrangements for his son to study ancient Greek and take piano lessons. Over the next fifteen years, music will come to dominate his studies, and Adams will decide to become a concert pianist.

The Panama Pacific Exposition is held for ten months in the present-day Marina District. Adams's father buys him a year-long pass so he can attend the exposition daily.

Adams convinces his parents to go to Yosemite for a vacation. They give their son his first camera, a Kodak Box Brownie. Adams will become a regular summer visitor to the majestic park.

Winter: Adams is infected with the Spanish influenza, at the tail end of the worst epidemic in American history. Though he will recover, over half a million Americans die; the worldwide death toll is upwards of 30 million. He determines to return as soon as possible to Yosemite, a place that seems pure and healing to him.

Summer: After several summers of avid hiking, exploration, and photography in Yosemite, Adams joins the Sierra Club and applies for a job as summertime custodian of the club's Yosemite headquarters. In this role for several years, he will lead tours, answer questions, and maintain a library. He also places and removes the seasonal cable system on the back of Half Dome that enables adventurous park visitors to summit it. He will ascend and descend Half Dome for six days every spring and every fall, carrying the heavy clamps in a backpack.

Adams's first published photograph appears in the Sierra Club Bulletin.

Adams learns flash photography (before the era of flash bulbs) to make himself more versatile -- and tells a few stories of nearly setting his subjects on fire.


Still determined to become a concert pianist, Adams seeks a practice piano at Yosemite. He finds it in the studio of painter Harry Best, and there meets Virginia Best, whom he will later marry.

Summer: Adams photographs in the area of the Kings River, in the Sierra Nevada. When he returns to San Francisco at the end of the summer, he breaks up with Virginia, certain that marriage is incompatible with the musical career he still seeks.

Winter: Adams supports himself as a piano teacher in San Francisco.

Adams makes albums for the Sierra Club outings held at the San Francisco office of the club. He demonstrates varying angles and techniques of photographing the same subject.

Winter: Disillusioned with the politics and posturings of San Francisco's musical world, Adams decides to abandon his musical career.

For the first time, Adams makes a photograph in a style uniquely his own. Monolith, the Face of Half Dome depicts Half Dome with a sharp, clear focus, and the sky is darkened for dramatic effect.

San Francisco insurance man and arts patron Albert Bender underwrites Adams's first portfolio, which contains 18 prints. One hundred portfolios are printed and they sell out at $50.00 apiece.

January 2: Adams and Virginia Best get married at Yosemite.

Ansel Adams meets photographer Edward Weston at Albert Bender's.

William Colby, executive director of the Sierra Club, invites Adams to be the official photographer of a Sierra Club outing to the Canadian Rockies.

Adams and his wife build a home next to his parents' house in San Francisco. Adams works as a commercial photographer.

Adams meets photographer Paul Strand in Taos, New Mexico. Strand's modernist style affects Adams's own style, and inspires him to make intimate, detailed photographs of leaves and flowers.

Adams photographs Kings River and Kern River in the Sierra Nevada.

Adams prints Farm Security Administration photographer Dorothea Lange's photographs while she is out in the field, so she can get feedback before they are sent to Washington, D.C. During the Depression, the F.S.A. had hired photographers to document American rural life.

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., mounts a solo exhibit of Adams's work entitled "Pictorial Photographs of the Sierra Nevada Mountains by Ansel Adams."

Charles Adams is made Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is also a member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

The M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco holds a solo exhibit of Adams's photographs.

The Group f/64 is created. The name of the group is derived from the very small lens aperture used to increase sharpness and depth of field. The members, including Adams, Edward Weston, and Imogen Cunningham, are committed to defining photography as a pure art form rather than a derivative of other art forms.

Ansel and Virginia's son, Michael Adams, is born.

The San Francisco Museum of Art gives Adams a one-person exhibit.

September: When the Gallerie Beaux Arts in San Francisco closes, Adams reopens it as a gallery for photography.

Adams meets master photographer and art world authority Alfred Stieglitz for the first time in New York. Stieglitz is very impressed with Adams's portfolio.

November: Adams meets gallery director Alma Reed at her Delphic Studios in New York, one of the few galleries to exhibit photographs at the time. Adams is never paid for the eight prints of his that Reed sells.

Adams holds an impromptu Yosemite Wildflower Festival.

Adams shares responsibility for gallery with Joseph Danysh so he can go back to photographing. It becomes the Adams/Danysh Gallery.

January-May: Camera Craft Magazine runs a series of articles by Adams called "An Exposition of Technique."

Adams begins a 37-year tenure as a member of the Sierra Club's Board of Directors.

Adams organizes a Conservation Convention and Wildflower Festival.

His Making a Photograph is published.

Ansel and Virginia's daughter, Anne Adams, is born.

January: A conference on the national parks is held in Washington, D.C. The Sierra Club sends Adams to lobby for the establishment of Kings Canyon as a national park. Adams shows his photographs of the Sierra to lawmakers and the Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes.

Adams begins to work with a "little camera," a Contax, in addition to his view camera.

May 9: The Washington Times reviews an Arts Club exhibit of Adams's work in Washington, D.C.

October 27: Alfred Stieglitz hosts a one-person exhibit of Adams's work at "An American Place," his gallery in New York.

November: Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes commissions Adams to make photographs of the national parks, which he plans to enlarge into murals for the Department of the Interior's main building. Adams begins working on the assignment.

Adams photographs Carlsbad Caverns National Monument, New Mexico, for the U.S. Park Service.

December: Adams is hospitalized for a chest infection and mononucleosis.

January 7: Curator Beaumont Newhall invites Adams to display some of his photographs at a Museum of Modern Art exhibit entitled "Photography: 1839-1937."

Virginia Adams inherits her father's gift shop in Yosemite, Best's Studio.

June: A fire in Adams's darkroom at Yosemite destroys one-third of his early negatives. Weston and his wife help sort through the wreckage.

The University of California at San Francisco hosts a one-man show by Adams.

After working on the book for nearly a year, Adams's Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail is published. Adams sends a copy to Ickes, who shows it to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt keeps the book for the White House, so Adams sends Ickes another copy.

Congress passes a bill making Kings Canyon a national park.

Adams curates "A Pageant of Photography" for the Golden Gate Exposition. This overview of American photographic history features photographs of the Civil War, as well as photographs of the Old West made by 19th century photographers such as Carleton Watkins and Timothy O'Sullivan.

December 31: Beaumont Newhall curates the first photography exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. Adams helps him plan the exhibit, and becomes a consultant to the museum.

Adams shoots his celebrated Surf Sequence on an outing with Beaumont and Nancy Newhall.

Adams gets an assignment from AT&T to photograph employees at their jobs.

George Waters at Kodak hires Adams along with Edward Weston, Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler to shoot advertising photos with Kodak film. Unfortunately, many of the color prints have faded due to the instability of the dyes in the Ektachrome film.

Ansel and Virginia Adams write Michael and Anne in Yosemite Valley.The children's book depicts their two young children. The text is written by Virginia, with Ansel contributing the photographs. The book is quite successful, despite Adams's complaints about the poor quality of the reproductions.

Adams makes his own version of Timothy O'Sullivan's 1873 photograph of the ancient ruins at Canyon de Chelly, Arizona.

March: Adams patron Albert Bender dies.

October: Adams curates the "Image of Freedom" exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art with Nancy Newhall.

October 31: Adams makes one of his best-known photographs, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.

Due to the outbreak of World War II, the Department of the Interior is forced to cancel its mural project.

Adams visits Manzanar, an internment camp for Japanese Americans. Refusing government funding, he documents the plight of the internees at his own expense. While there he shoots Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, California.

Nancy Newhall curates an exhibit of Adams's Manzanar photographs at the Museum of Modern Art.

Born Free and Equal, a book featuring Adams's Manzanar photographs, is published. Many criticize him for being disloyal.

February: Adams and Dorothea Lange collaborate to photograph the wartime shipyards in Richmond, California for Fortune.

Ted Spencer, president of the San Francisco Art Association, asks Adams to set up a department of photography at the California School of Fine Arts. Adams passes on his teaching position to Minor White, because it takes up too much of his time.

Adams is awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Adams goes to Alaska to work on his Guggenheim project and on an assignment for Kodak. While there, he makes photographs of Denali National Park.

Adams's Guggenheim Fellowship is renewed.

Beaumont Newhall is appointed as the first curator of the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. He establishes the International Museum of Photography there.

Adams publishes two books that teach about photography: The Camera and the Lens and The Negative.

Adams's My Camera in Yosemite Valley is published.

Adams and Dorothea Lange work together on assignments -- one on the Mormons of Utah for Life, and one for Fortune on agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley.

My Camera in the National Parks and National Parks and Monuments are published. Adams has made the photographs for these books with support from his Guggenheim fellowships for photographing the national parks.

Adams goes to Hawaii on an assignment for Kodak.

Adams's The Print is published.

Natural Light Photography, another of Adams's teaching books, is published.

June and July: Adams and Nancy Newhall collaborate on a series of articles for Arizona Highways, a magazine that showcases photographs of nature.

Adams co-founds Aperture, a journal of creative photography, with the Newhalls, Minor White, and others. Virginia and Ansel Adams start a company called Five Associates with three friends. The company produces high-quality photographic postcards and notecards, which are sold at Best's Studio.

Adams and Nancy Newhall collaborate on Death Valley.

Nancy Newhall and Adams curate an exhibit called "This Is the American Earth," which is held at the LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite before traveling throughout the United States. Among its venues are the Smithsonian, New York's Museum of Modern Art, and the California Academy of Science.

Adams begins teaching photography workshops at Yosemite.

Another Adams teaching book, Artificial Light Photography, is published.

Adams tries to resign from the Sierra Club during the battle to widen the Tioga Road near Tenaya Lake. In the end, he loses his battle — and he believes the region is done irreparable harm. His resignation is not accepted. He has a rubber stamp made that says, "Remember Tenaya!!!"

Adams and the Sierra Club fight to get Pacific Gas & Electric to move the site of their nuclear power plant from Nipomo Dunes to Diablo Canyon. The site is moved, but deep rifts in political strategies are created within the Sierra Club.

Adams sells his San Francisco house and moves to Carmel, California.

Nancy Newhall curates "The Eloquent Light," a retrospective of Adams's work held at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

Adams meets with President Lyndon B. Johnson to discuss environmental issues.

At President Johnson's request, Adams and Nancy Newhall produce a book called A More Beautiful America, which uses Adams's photographs and text from Johnson's speeches.

Cole Weston leases art gallery space to Adams, who starts an organization called Friends of Photography in Carmel.

Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall awards Adams the Conservation Service Award, the Interior Department's highest civilian honor.

Adams is elected director of the Sierra Club.

Adams resigns as director of the Sierra Club.

Adams becomes more involved with the Wilderness Society because of their focus on wilderness issues and because of his friendship with William Turnage, who is serving as executive director.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art holds an exhibit called "Ansel Adams: Recollected Moments."

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London hosts an exhibit of Adams's work.

Spring: David McAlpin organizes an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art to display Adams's lesser-known work in portraiture. The exhibit's catalogue is called Singular Images.

July 7: Nancy Newhall dies.

January 28: President Gerald Ford requests a print of Clearing Winter Stormafter seeing it in "Images: 1923-1974." Adams presents him with the print, as well as his outline of a "New Initiative for the National Parks." Adams says to President Ford, "Mr. President, every time you lean back in your chair, that picture is going to remind you of your responsibility to do something for the national parks."

Adams's Taos Pueblo is reprinted.

Adams's Photographs of the Southwest is published.

James Alinder becomes executive director of Friends of Photography.

John Szarkowski curates "Ansel Adams and the West" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Adams's Yosemite and the Range of Light is published.

The Friends of Photography mount an exhibition called "Ansel Adams: 50 Years of Portraits."

Adams is invited to make official photographs of President Jimmy Carter and Vice-President Walter Mondale for the National Portrait Gallery. This marks the first time photographs are used instead of paintings.

September 3: Adams appears on the cover of Time magazine.

June 9: President Carter presents Adams with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

A mural-sized print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico sells for $71,500, the highest price ever paid for a print.

Adams is awarded the Hasselblad Medal of Honor at the Museum of Modern Art in New York by the King and Queen of Sweden.

February 19: A celebration marking Adams's 80th birthday is put on by the Alinders at the Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art. Pianist Vladimir Ashkenazi performs at the party.

An exhibition called "The Unknown Ansel Adams" is curated by Jim Alinder for the Friends of Photography in Carmel.

Adams's Yosemite workshops are transferred to Carmel to be run by the Friends of Photography.

An exhibition of Adams's work is held in Shanghai. It is the first American exhibit to be invited to the National Museum of Beijing since the Communist takeover.

May: An Adams interview in Playboy magazine comes out. Adams is outspoken in his opposition to President Ronald Reagan.

June 30: Adams is invited to meet with President Reagan. He views it as an opportunity to express his views on conservation.

April 22: Ansel Adams dies at the age of 82.

Congress passes legislation designating more than 200,000 acres of land near Yosemite as the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area.

April 22: An 11,760-foot mountain on the boundary of Yosemite National Park is named Mt. Ansel Adams.

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