College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

Ansel Adams: "The Role of the Artist in Conservation"

The Role of the Artist in Conservation

Ansel Adams

Given at Berkeley, California March 3, 1975

The role of the artist in the environment is a complex pattern of adjustment between the objective and the subjective, the informative and the enlightening. The art historian R. H. Wilenski has aptly said, "Art is the enlargement of the experience." Hence I find it impossible to talk about "art" without stressing "experience," and I cannot discuss "experience" without somehow defining its source. In this case, the National parks and the Wilderness areas are the prime source-themes, and, as such, I believe they exemplify the spirit and intention of the Albright lectures.

I am naturally pleased at this opportunity to speak on the assigned subject, because so much of my life has been entwined with both nature and art. But not all of it! I am glad that I have had sufficient experience with man and his world to temper and balance my mystical devotions to the world of nature. I am obliged to agree with the sometimes disturbing question: "What is more natural than Man?" Man remains the basic quotient: the result of earth and spirit. To deny man is impossible, to depreciate him is unthinkable, but to glorify him may be destructive, especially if such glorification leads to his own ruin. Hence, through his own intelligence he must control himself and his relationship to his material and spiritual environment. Perhaps through the domain of art a certain penetrating comprehension may be achieved. This is my underlying theme: I believe the role of the artist is clear and will be better expressed by peripheral emphasis than by pedantic discussion of historic and present methodology. This statement is especially valid as I am not an historian, a scientist, or an aesthetician. I can only discuss personal experience and conclusions and I expect these to be clarified or disputed in the seminars which are scheduled to follow this lecture.

Response to natural beauty is an important element of the motivation of environmental activity. There are many other motivations, Of course; it is hoped that most will bear some relationship to the primary one that is being discussed here. There is no reason why every activity of Man cannot partake in some degree of the elements of beauty and wonder the artist is primarily concerned with. In a way the role of the artist is to reach into all fields and vitalize them in imaginative, human ways. Obviously, those domains which relate specifically to the emotional, spiritual, and aesthetic aspects of the world are the first concern of the artist; yet the great artists of history were capable of touching many aspects of humanity and human achievement. Alfred Stieglitz insisted that "Art is the affirmation of life" and it is this quality of affirmation, lighting of candles against the dark, that is so imperative to creativity and to enlightened human affairs in general.

While the title assigned to me relates to "conservation," I wish to state that I no longer use that word (except by force of habit). I find it so vague and misleading as to be meaningless. The term "ecology" is too often wrongly or carelessly used; it is really a specific scientific discipline and is employed more often as a symbol than as an accurate descriptive term. I prefer the term "environment," not only because it is more specific but because it invites the element of conscience - "your environment and my environment" - a tangible situation which is easily comprehended by all.

A capable art historian can trace the interpretation of environment through the ages - such earth-religion symbols as are found in prehistoric pottery, the poetry of Virgil, the depiction of landscape and gardens in many paintings of the Renaissance, the exquisite nature images of the Orient, the heroic and dramatic painting of the Romantic periods of Western art, as well as in the vast resources of African and American Indian design. The early painters of the American West were not restrained in their paeanic (if often inaccurate) depictions of the vast scenic backdrops and of the "idealized savage" populations. The interpretations might be of questionable veracity, but they do have thrilling (if implausible) emotional impact.

Early Landscape Photography

Not until photography emerged as a recording medium could we observe a trustworthy presentation of the vast landscapes of the earth or of the natives. Yet, we must always remember that the photographs (especially on the early blue-sensitive negatives) were accurate only in the optical sense; the value and color interpretations were far from reality. Black and white photography is truly quite a "departure from reality," and the transition from one aspect of visual magic to another was not as complete as many imagine.

I am by no means certain of the period when a resonance appeared between the natural scene, the camera, and the spectator. Only in isolated areas of the West were there any real centers of population and quasi-culture. Most of the land was truly wilderness. The great surveys following the Civil War recorded wonders and curiosities never before imagined by the civilized and more urbane Easterner. The great westward migrations began, and we must admit that the motivations were almost entirely economic and spurred by enticing opportunities. "Art" in the form of countless photographs incited interest. How much of it was "art" and how much simple fact or promotion is hard to tell. Old photographs are being constantly exhumed, and in my opinion a vast number are quite worthless except as historical ephemera.

However, we cannot overlook the photographs of William Henry Jackson as having had a profound effect on Congress in the establishment of Yellowstone National Park. I also feel certain that the impressive photographs of Carleton E. Watkins did much to influence the security of Yosemite Valley. While photographs undoubtedly encouraged exploitation, they also stimulated interest and a desire to preserve the endangered land. We are prone to overlook certain tragic depredations, such as the calamitous uncontrolled timbering of the Northwest, the despoliation of the High Sierra meadows by hordes of sheep, described by John Muir as "hoofed locusts" (I am told by ecologists that the meadows have not recovered in the hundred years since the infestation), and the destruction of land and pollution of rivers stemming from the intensive hydraulic mining in the Sierra Foothill regions. (Pollution is not exactly a contemporary scourge!) There are many rather spectacular photographs of hydraulic mining, but I doubt if they appeared in time to effect any real good; the serious pollution of the streams had a profound economic impact on the lower region of foothill and agricultural plain, and action was eventually taken to prevent this type of mining.

With the passage of time, it is difficult to know just what photographs served to promote exploitation, which ones merely recorded the life and activities of the times, and which ones served as "creative propaganda" toward the preservation of the natural scene and the better life for man. Indeed, this is an immense theme demanding most serious study - both for historical and sociological reasons.

The Artist and the Environment

I believe I should pass on from vague history to the perplexing present and the rather incomprehensible future. It is not what the artist has done but what he can do for the great cause of the environment that should command our attention now. Yet it is always interesting to find that reference to some aspect of history sharpens and justifies our concepts and projections. Art always has been, and definitely is, a variable and unpredictable force.

Many well-meaning individuals concerned with the environment are rather factually minded in that they do not initiate or respond to the "magical" elements of experience which relate to art. As the experience of the natural scene is primarily emotional, it is logical to assume that art bears some direct relationship to the emotions - in direct inspiration and interpretation and in relation to the surround of man's activities and evidences. As the appreciation of Nature is of the spirit, so should the spiritual qualities of art and music be in gentle evidence - at least available - when appropriate. I do not refer to the horrors of Muzak or the incredible junk of the curio shop or average hotel lobby. But as a lawyer friend points out, we cannot give legal security to good taste!

My father, who was a man of basic high taste, confessed to me that as a young man the picture of Mount Rainier at sunset which occupied the label of the Rainier Beer bottle created in him a nostalgic yearning for the north woods and mountains he had known in his boyhood. It was a blatantly obvious chromo but it served as a compelling symbol of intense experience for him. We cannot deny others the privilege of indulging in their private symbols. Wait long enough and any symbol may achieve a character of art. Was Giotto thought of in his time as we think of him today? The artist, however, cannot create with one hand on the dead body of the past and the other on the pulse of the future. It is the essential now that is alive, both in the domain of art and in the interpretation and protection of the environment.

Response to natural beauty is one of the foundations of the environmental movement. But there are also the facts of human survival and the protection of resources of all kinds. I would prefer to think of the total resource of the earth and the function of art in interpretation, clarification, and in the creation of a universal conscience. Perhaps, at some Utopian level, all human activity from photography to petroleum would assume an equal significance and afford an equal delight in creation and distribution! We are now torn between a variety of dichotomies: We demand power but we do our best to prevent its production, we desire total pleasure with total freedom, we require more recreation areas as well as more privacy, and we have no awareness whatever of the limits of resource confronting us on every hand - at every phase of existence. Pope said it well: "Some praise at morning what they blame at night / But always think the last opinion right."

The Qualities of Art

Unfortunately, many of the dedicated individuals concerned with the environment react first to any new concept with a resounding NO. Irritation and resentment follow this almost ritualistic negativism. It is my firm belief that for every stated negative there should be an affirmative; for every rejection there should be some attempt at comprehension and solution. At least an open mind and heart are the prerequisites of a truly cooperative society. The artist in any medium does not reject his subject he comprehends, interprets, and expresses. I regret that so many of our leaders do not seek solutions but dwell in a world of opposition and rejection. It is not that we have failed in many important projects; we have initiated, supported, and sometimes achieved together, and against stern opposition, matters of great import to society. But we have lost many battles and avoided opportunities because of a basic suspicion, negation, or association with some dogma (which is often created through questionable semantics). I believe the approach of the artist and the approach of the environmentalist are fairly close in that both are, to a rather impressive degree, concerned with the "affirmation of life. "

Much of our art is centripetal in character, self-centered, obscure, and, at best, cultish. Much art that is now related to humanity is critical and cynical in character. Most art that now relates to the natural scene is cheaply scenic and puerile in concept. Those, obviously, are not the kinds of art I am talking about. I am assuming that there are enough artists, and a sufficient audience, to comprehend the particular relationship of fine art to the environment.

That is my theme at this time. But there have been and will be other times and other audiences. I think the survival problem will always remain, although a vast improvement in our relationship with our environment will hopefully come to pass. Man, being concerned for so many millennia with survival has made a habit of it. He survives by self-assertion, which many of us may consider ego. The fair maid of Environment is threatened by the horrendous dragons of Exploitation. How easy it is for man to move in glory, slashing with righteousness in every possible direction, emerging not too battered and exhausted, and ready for the next struggle with the demons of Energy, Pesticides, Overpopulation, and possibly Famine (which were really his responsibility in the first place).

Much of the photography of recent years has related to the "human condition;" and, as social document, has been of profound importance. It is basically negative in character (and perhaps it must be) but photography of the environment as a whole should be positive but truthful, revealing and discerning, and, above all, it should move people to constructive action.

Attitudes Toward Art and the Environment

The curse of all art is the patina of sentimentality. When the artist is confronted with some awesome vista of the world, or with some fragile reminder of the infinite variety of life, or with some significant aspect of society he must respond according to his training, experience, and intuition. (Perhaps intuition comes first!) He can see only through his eyes, and his vision can only be as effective as his spirit. "Postcard" vision results in postcards. What I call the "in-syndrome" influences many to see the world on a temporal bias (and is accepted likewise by many spectators). But sooner or later the individual will emerge, for better or for worse, influential or ineffective. If his audience is not considered at all he may accomplish little; if it is considered too much, he may be confused as to his basic purpose. All the artist can do - in any medium - is what he feels he must do to make his statement and offer it to the world.

The foregoing discourse may explain a little of why I do not enjoy being called a "nature-boy." Such a term implies that I live only in a natural vacuum without concern for society. That is definitely not the case. I can honestly say that practically everything I have done has been motivated consciously or intuitively by some form of "contribution" to thought, emotion, or purpose. Without knowing about people, how could I possibly know about nature? (Or vice versa.)

When I speak about the artist and his role in the environment my observation must be limited, as I have said, to my own experience, and it must relate, as far as I am concerned, to the world at large. This will account for my frequent departures into principles and projections that have, perhaps, only a remote relationship to art. The audience is ever changing and may respond in most unpredictable ways. The artist must be prepared to flow with the great stream of life.

Let us assume there are around 150,000,000 capable adults in this country. How many have a direct interest in environmental problems? How many have merely a passing interest? I fear the proportion of both groups to the whole would be alarmingly small. Let us be very generous and say that perhaps 5,000,000 people are "aware." This seems fair since if I belong to six organizations (or subscribe to their journals) I am therefore listed as six people! I believe it is the truth that environmentalists spend a lot of time and energy speaking to themselves: A gathering of, say, 2,000 people seems to offer a rather large assemblage of agreement. The facts are that for every person wholly or partially dedicated to the cause there are about 40 individuals who need to be acquainted and enlightened. I am sure you know that these estimates on my part are entirely personal and not founded on any actual census; from all I can gather my figure is perhaps more biased toward the already enlightened than those needing enlightenment.

However, the character of those supporting the environment is more important than the sheer number. Much time and effort is consumed in organizational procedure, but one cannot discount the tremendous and effective effort put forth by the dedicated few who have exceptional devotion and ability. Unfortunately, some of the most vocal and energetic people in the field are also the most clamorous, illogical, and irritating - and these have done the cause far more harm than good. It may be that one of the worst things an artist can do for himself is to become involved in the political and internal struggles of the organizations involved. It is sometimes very difficult to see the plantation for the palm trees!

History indicates that there is usually a backlash to brazen affront, aggressive action, and the creation of unjust situations, or even the threat of them. In looking over many past decades I am convinced that the policies and methods of the Save-the-Redwoods League and the Nature Conservancy accomplished the maximum return with the minimum struggle and vituperation. I do not wish to be thought of as either a Pollyanna or an Uncle Tom; 1 simply do not consider belligerence, character defamation, or misinformation (or half-accurate information, which is worse) to be truly effective. We have accomplished many wonderful things, mostly by thoughtful and sober discourse among men and institutions.

As the artist dwells in experience, so do most of the people of the world, especially those who are concerned with the most important problems. Nature for them, like love or faith, is fearfully difficult to set forth in spoken or written words. In their sincere desire to communicate with others, they employ the only symbols they know, and these are seldom, if ever, related to the expressive arts. Religious symbolism is deep-rooted; certain symbols of ethics are reasonably consistent and intense. But to put into expressive form the qualities of the natural world and its significance to humanity requires a very special technique, craft, and sensibility - also a great compassion.

How many truly perceptive writers can we boast of over the past two centuries? We have done quite well with the painters, although a few American painters achieved the heights of acclaim without dwelling upon grandiose fantasies. Such masters as Ryder, Marin, and Graves are, to me, supreme. Certainly, few of the non-objective contemporary painters relate in obvious ways to the natural scene, although they may stoutly claim their close association with "nature." But here we come to a crucial confusion, the difference between "nature" in the general sense and the "natural scene" in the specific sense. There was a transitional period wherein the curious and the sublime were considered the dominant qualities of the great parks - Yellowstone and Yosemite, for example. The deeper penetration of formal relationships, the moods of "wildness" for its own sake, this is a comparatively recent development. It is in this domain that the artist can and will become most functional and expressive and touch, closer than ever before, humanity and its many problems.

We occupy a very small segment of environmental time. I am not concerned with the billions of years required to create a lichen, but with the short span of human history from which we can learn something of the present and of the time to come. But there is something tremendously impressive in the concept stated by Edward Carpenter, that the "forests flow over the land like cloud shadows" and we, too, shall flow as nations and races over the environment (or what is left of it). And may our journey be propitious.

Edward Weston

I should not attempt critical estimates of individual artists, writers, and dedicated citizens who have made definite contributions to the spiritual concept and security of wilderness. First, I am no critic, and second, there are so many in the various creative media. However, I would like to speak here of one great artist who expressed a deep sympathy with the natural, and the human scene as well, and whose expression was augmented in depth and power through his sympathies with life and art in a very general sense. I knew Edward Weston intimately for many years and was very much aware of the power of his concepts and work. His enormous impact on photography and on art will only be adequately revealed in time. He was not conscious of the "natural scene" as we know it through parks, wilderness, and conservation organizations. To him all nature was alive and part of the universal complex of which man is but a part. The younger generations of photographers are becoming increasingly aware of this more universal point of view. The great contributions of Eliot Porter and David Muench have encouraged them to respond to the vast perspective of intimate, meaningful subject matter opening before their cameras.

Some Personal Observations

I recall that when I began serious work with the camera in the late 1920s and the early 1930s I was advised (with most kindly intent) that the camera could not possibly express the human soul and that I should remain with music. Then I was told that the intimate details of nature were of minor importance compared with the Grand Landscape, or similar resounding phrases. It was also pointed out that if I wished to make my living in photography I should "get down to earth(!)" to the more lucrative jungles of concrete and technical affairs. Fortunately, I had faith (which was supported by some very good friends) and I persevered with the natural world, but frequently came to grips with the realities of professional photography and the essential livelihood.

It was clear to me from the start that many shared my interest in twigs and peaks, in pools, waterfalls, and oceans, in details of stones, and the vast cloud ranges on high. The whole world of nature became an impressive unity and many people were resonating with it. I passed through short periods where I shared the very limited perspectives of Thoreau and the effusive (but far more reasonable) devotions of John Muir. When Muir's verbal descriptive abilities ran low, he could always describe something as "Godlike" (actually, that term is not such a questionable one). Dreams and illusions and adventure were given people through the written word; photography and other graphic arts confirmed and clarified them.

In this age of exploitation - political, commercial, and even "spiritual" - we have relatively few people who make the decisive effort to delve deeply beneath the obvious surface of convenience and self-indulgence. We are prone to think of recreation instead of "re-creation." The biggest is more potent than the most beautiful; the "curious" thing is more compelling than the divinely common things of nature. Art must either be spectacular, or oblique, or downright obscure, or frighteningly obvious and trite. But Nature and Man are not basically different. Just as some natural phenomena are disturbing so are many men bad and destructive.

I have been asked how I can entertain such contradictions - how I can speak of the ideal and then admit the frailties and the defeats. It is because the world itself is a contradiction; achievement comes from the appropriate "management" of the situations as we find them. The field of glory for the artist is, I think, quite clearly defined; he must create some important "configurations out of chaos." In other words, he must bring form into the world - the basic formal relationship of man and his environment. Here I realize I am entering into confusions of both semantics and philosophy.

I wish now to discuss more factual elements. The basic theme still hovers about and I think you can perceive that the potential relationships are quite applicable. Santayana wisely said: "All problems are divided into two classes: soluble questions which are trivial, and important questions, which are insoluble."

Semantics and Parks

For years I have been distressed over the serious problems of semantics. Very often a word will intrude and conflict with original concepts and meanings, for example, the use of the word park, as in Yosemite National Park. A large proportion of the 150,000,000 adult and competent Americans equate "Park" with Central Park, Golden Gate Park, Podunk City Park (with bandstand), and the Eke. The dominant theme is relaxation and recreation; there is certainly nothing wrong with this. However, near my home in Carmel the state operates the Point Lobos Reserve. This term Reserve is fully descriptive of the character of the place and the reason for its establishment. It is reserved for its inherent qualities. It is open to the public and their cars (to a limited extent). There are picnic tables but no camping and no facilities. One feels the aura of "protection and preservation" which is rewarding and thought- provoking. Why not Yosemite National Reserve, Sequoia National Reserve, Glacier Bay National Preserve, Cape Cod National Seashore Recreational Area, Golden Gate Headlands Reserve, Organ Pipe National Preserve, and so on? The term "Park" does not, for me, have very many logical applications in the whole National Park Service system although there are many state parks all over the country that are frankly and properly "park" and recreation areas.

In the great existing domains, such as Yosemite, Sequoia, Glacier, and Yellowstone there will always have to be small "enclaves" for public service but the largest areas should be on the Reserve or Preserve status. Yosemite Valley is a great national shrine; I do not think it is possible, or appropriate, to contemplate removing all services from it. But the objectives of removing all automobiles from the Valley and most of the services are completely commendable.

Present Status of Yosemite

The artist, concerned with the "enlargement of experience" is often prone to exaggerations, not so much for aesthetic and dramatic emphasis, but for distortions of plain fact. And the camera is very helpful with both revelation and distortion. We know what it can accomplish in the former domain. It is not so easy to define distortions, hence their insidious quality. I refer to one example. Take your wide-angle lens to the Camp Curry parking lot in Yosemite. "Move in" as we say in our patois; we can achieve - through the geometric verities of perspective - the impression that most of the floor of Yosemite Valley is one vast parking lot! Less than a fraction of 1 percent of the Valley floor is occupied by structures, roads, or parking areas. A photograph of the Mall and the village store area on a summer weekend day can give the impression that the entire Valley is as teeming as Times Square. But go two or three hundred feet from the roads and centers and you will be quite alone, even in Yosemite Valley. I am not saying that many things could not be improved; indeed, we must be constantly on the alert to improve them. Nothing has moved me more in recent years than to see the great and pervasive changes in Yosemite; the shuttle buses, the accent on youth, the astonishing increase in backpacking, biking, climbing, and photography. The experiences are very real, and they are being expressed in images and are entering into the consciousness of the present generation.

The generality "wilderness" is a mystique; true wilderness would be an abomination. I feel strongly that the wilderness areas invite a very fine and constructive concept; no mechanical intrusions, no "facilities," appropriate trails and bridges to be kept in appropriate condition for hikers and riders, and all necessary restrictions to prevent overuse and resultant harm.

The foregoing statements give very simple outlines of concepts, but I think they are quite valid. At least they give more precise meaning to many areas which are now under the blight of misinterpretation and encouragement for wrong use-patterns. I think the artist and the interpreter should be encouraged to give more attention to areas which have been less precisely defined. Many people I know have been turned away from Yosemite because of the connotations of the term "Park." Many expect Park facilities. Concessionaires wish to develop their business at the "Park" level. One function of the artist would be to assist in the clarification of these terms, by both verbal and visual means.

Policies for the National Parks

The status quo in the National Parks (we must still use that term since it is "legal") is serious at both governmental and concessionaire levels. The National Park Service is entrenched as a large bureaucracy (comprised of excellent and honest people, in the main). What it gains in complexity it has lost in sensitivity and awareness; more sheets of paper move over the desks than autumn leaves fall in Shenandoah.

In 1916, when the National Park Service was founded through the efforts and devotions of Horace Albright, Stephen Mather, and Woodrow Wilson (let us not forget that Horace Albright has been a most potent force on behalf of the environment for fifty years), business people were invited to invest in the parks as concessionaires, to operate under carefully controlled standards and supervision, and to be allowed to make a fair return on their investment and effort. Unfortunately, this did not work out as well as expected; depreciation, amortization (with bank loans not possible on government--owned properties), rising costs, the inevitable beckoning of expansion, and the greater profit possibilities have resulted in a situation where it is quite reasonable to say the concessionaire "runs" the Park. The only solution as I see it is for the government to assume total responsibility for the facilities and then lease the operations on a fair but strict basis.

The present operations in Yosemite have come under very strong criticism - both fair and unfair - but the shuttle buses, the closing off of the eastern end of the Valley to all cars, and the establishment of one-way roads have combined to achieve a remarkable quality which has never been surpassed in Yosemite and never equaled in any other Park. Unless conservative and unimaginative minds assume full control, Yosemite will progress toward a very high level of perfection and serve as a model for all reserved areas in the land. The Parks need intensive Presidential support. I am pleased to bring the foregoing points to your attention primarily the better to establish a base of reality.

Exclusion is, for me, a bad word indeed. I want people to experience Yosemite and the Sierra. The Sierra Club outings were conceived to acquaint people with the beauty of the Sierra and enlist their support in its preservation. William E. Colby once told me that he and John Muir were at Glacier Point (circa 1910) and Muir said to Colby, "Will, won't it be wonderful when one million people can see what we are seeing today?" Millions are seeing it today, and millions more are seeing and will see it through art. To experience need not imply to destroy. For a few hardy souls to demand the sealing off of the wild places represents a brutal policy I cannot condone. I am anxious, however, to promote the essential controls that will limit use so that, in the classic words of the law "the land will be inalienable for all time." The problem is to replace the Curious with the Wonderful, de-emphasize recreation in favor of the re-creation of the spirit, encourage perception, realization, and creation. Any artist in search of a theme has two that are set out clearly before him: the interpretation of the environment and the interpretation of man's relationship to it.

The artist and the photographer, especially among the young people of our time, seek the mysteries and the adventures of experience in nature. The National Parks should be totally inviting: free of the complex jangle of the cash registers, the auto horns, and the crowding of confused flesh. The basic mood must always be protective of the area and create respect and affection. Because I have reached the age when I cannot climb and scramble as I was wont to do in my remote past, does not encourage me to promote roads, trams, or helicopter services into the wild places. I would like to think of all young people of today, with their health, vigor, and creativity striding the high hills as I did so many years ago, with the beauty and the wonder of the world opening before them.


1950. My Camera in the National Parks. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

1954. Death Valley. (Text by Nancy Newhall.) San Francisco: 5 Associates.

1958. Yosemite - 1938: Compromise in action. National Parks Magazine. (Oct.-Dec.).

1959. Yosemite Valley. (Edited by Nancy Newhall.) San Francisco: 5 Associates.

1960. This is the American earth. (Text by Nancy Newhall.) San Francisco: Sierra Club.

1961. The artist and the ideals of wilderness. In D. Brower (ed.) Wilderness: America's Living Heritage. San Francisco: Sierra Club.

1974. Ansel Adams: Singular images. Dobbs Ferry, N. Y.: Morgan & Morgan.

1974. Ansel Adams: Images 1923-1974. (Foreword by Wallace Stegner.) Boston: New York Graphic Society.


1940. Time exposure. New York: G. P. Putnam's.

1974. Monograph. (Text by Beaumont Newhall and Diana E. Edkins.) Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Morgan & Morgan.


1901. Our National Parks. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin.

1948. Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. Photographs by Ansel Adams. (Selections edited by Charlotte E. Mauk.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


1866. Excursions. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.


1868. The Yosemite Book. Illustrated with maps and photographs. (Text by J. D. Whitney.) New York: Julius Bien.


1965. The Flame of Recognition; his photographs accompanied by excerpts from the daybooks and letters. (Edited by Nancy Newhall.) New York: Grossman.


1934. The Study of Art. London: Faber& Faber.

Introducing: Ansel Adams

The name Ansel Adams is synonymous with some of the most striking camera-produced images of nature in the annals of photography. Part of the explanation for this must be that Adams was surrounded as a boy by beautiful natural scenes. He was born in San Francisco and spent an impressionable childhood among the dramatic sweep of the sand dunes and headlands beyond the Golden Gate.

At fourteen, on a family visit to Yosemite, Adams took his first photographs of the natural settings there. In succeeding summers he combined the study and practice of photography with exploration of Yosemite Valley. Through these and later experiences, he became an ardent mountaineer and "environmentalist," as he now prefers to be called. Around 1931 he gave up music (piano) for the profession of photography.

Adams's earliest notable photograph, Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake, was made in the summer of 1923 while he was on a camping trip with a friend and a burro. Later that year, he had a two-week trip with the Sierra Club in northern Yosemite National Park; this was the beginning of a long and close association with an idealistic but activist group that perhaps more than any other cared for and fought to preserve the values and beauties of natural environments.

His earliest portfolio, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, issued in 1927, was a spectacular production, which brought him his first success and recognition. From that time on, Adams's enormous energy and productivity became increasingly focused on photography and his own special attitude toward his chosen subject matter - the images of nature and the preservation of the values they represent. Increasingly he moved in the direction of fusing these two dominant interests. His book, Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail, published in 1938, played a prominent part in the campaign to establish Kings Canyon National Park in 1940.

In the 1940s Adams began an exploration and photo-documentation of the national parks and monuments. This work culminated in a series of subscription portfolios. Portfolio Two, published in 1950, was subtitled The National Parks and Monuments; Portfolio Three (1960), Yosemite Valley;. and Portfolio Four (1963), What Majestic Word (in memory of Russell Varian). Each one is a luminous portrayal of the unique values of our parks and wildlands and the need for their conservation.

Adams's articles, "Yosemite - 1938: Compromise in Action," "The Artist and the Ideals of Wilderness," and "The Conservation of Man" are strong statements of the issues he feels are central to the preservation of wilderness lands. He has also participated actively in conservation battles, including opposition to the building of an oil refinery at Moss Landing, California, and leadership in campaigns to prevent overdevelopment, of commercial facilities in the National Parks.

He has been honored with three Guggenheim Fellowships; an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of California in 1961 (the same year that Horace M. Albright was so honored); an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Occidental College; the U.S. Department of the Interior Conservation award; appointment as a Chubb Fellow, Yale University; and honorary degree from Yale University, University of Massachusetts (Amherst), and the University of Arizona. The Albright Lectures have been greatly enriched in 1975 through Ansel Adams's sharing of his experiences and insights on art and the environment.