Born in San Francisco in 1902, Adams would support himself as a pianist and piano teacher until 1930, but during the ‘20s he also served as a guide and custodian in Yosemite, leading expeditions into the wilderness and taking photographs of the scenery.
As his dedication to Yosemite grew, so did his dedication to photography and, in 1927, he produced what he called his ‘first true visualisation’: Monolith, The Face of Half Dome (1927), an image ‘not [of] the way the subject appeared in reality but how it felt to me.’ With the support of Albert Bender, San Francisco’s great patron of the arts, he was able to produce his first portfolio, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras (1927), and his first book, Taos Pueblo (1930).
Initially Adams’ work was influenced by the Pictorialist tradition of late 19th-century photography. But by 1930, his friendship with the great American photographer Paul Strand provoked Adams to move away from Pictorialism’s emphasis on darkroom manipulation. He began experimenting with the purity of ‘straight’ photography and the creative possibilities of the camera itself. In 1932, he and photographer Edward Weston founded the important ‘straight’ photography Group f/64, and the next year he met Albert Stieglitz who, in 1936, would exhibit Adams’ work at his New York gallery.
A great technical innovator, Adams wrote his first manual, Making a Photograph, in 1935. Although commissions for the likes of Time, Kodak or Zeiss often interrupted his work, Adams produced seminal images of the American landscape such as The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) and Dawn, Autumn Forest (1948). Adams died in 1984.