Ansel Adams' Life

Ansel Adams is universally regarded as one of the foremost photographers of the twentieth century. Born in 1902, Adams grew up in shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Given a Brownie box camera at an early age, he used it to take photographs of Yosemite Park on a family vacation and so began a lifelong love affair with the park with which his name would be forever connected. He would visit the park every year for the remainder of his life. He was even married in the park in 1928 to Virginia Rose Best.

Adams dedication to conservation also started early. He joined the Sierra Club in 1919, becoming a summer caretaker for the club in Yosemite. Among his duties there was setting up and removing the cables on Half Dome that enabled tourists to climb the park's most famous feature. The San Francisco Sierra Club was home to his first one-person show. Over the years he would become one of the most recognizable advocates for conservation in the United States, one who consulted with the administrations of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and even Reagan, a leader whose policies he had sharply criticized. After Adams died in 1984, a section of land encompassing more than 200,000 acres near Yosemite was designated as the Ansel Adams Wildness Area. The following year, a mountain in his beloved park was named Mt. Ansel Adams after the park's most ardent defender.

Although his work as a conservationist is widely recognized, less well remembered is Adams' activities as a social critic. During World War II he visited Manzanar, one of the internment camps set up for Japanese-Americans who resided on the west coast. Adams undertook a personal project to document the lives of the internees at his own expense. He later turned the photographs over to the Library of Congress as a gift to the nation. In making his donation he explained the purpose of his project, one that had caused many to accuse him of disloyalty: "The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment" ("Suffering").

Richard Kobayashi, farmer with cabbages, Manzanar Relocation Center, California

Kay Fakuda, U.S. Naval cadet nurse, image courtesy of Library of Congress American Memory collection
Miss Kay Fukuda, U.S. Naval cadet nurse.

The Danville Connection

The portfolio of Adams' work on display in the Library is entitled What Majestic Word (in Memory of Russell Varian), and is the fourth of the portfolios that Adams created in collaboration with the Sierra Club. Adams produced the portfolios originally with the idea of selling them to the participants in the annual high-country trek. Published in 1963, the college's portfolio is one of which only 260 copies were produced.

A Danville businessman bought this copy while on a trip out West. It was originally displayed at Forest Glen Preserve and then subsequently donated to Danville Area Community College. Unfortunately one of the original 15 images is missing from the collection, but the remaining 14 have been framed and preserved and placed upon rotating display in the College Library through the generosity of the DACC Foundation's Mary And Frank O'Neal Library Endowment Fund.

For More Information:

Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film - The American Experience - a web site to accompany the documentary. It includes a timeline, information about the cameras Adams used

"Suffering Under a Great Injustice" Ansel Adams Photographs of Japanese American Internment at Manzanar, Library of Congress, American Memory Project - the collection of photographs Adams donated to the Library of Congress to document conditions at the Japanese-American Internment camp.

Picturing the Century: One Hundred Years of Photography from the National Archives—Portfolio Ansel Adams - Adams was one of 7 photographs included in an exhibit put on by the National Archives to document American photography over the last 100 years.

Ansel Adams at 100: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art - a Flash movie that explores 7 of Adams photographs in detail, considering what they reveal about his development as an artist, his technique and what he hoped to convey through his art.

Center for Creative Photography Educator's Guide: Intimate Nature: Ansel Adams and the Close View - in-depth information about photography and how to appreciate photography as an art form, discussing technical aspects and how Adams used these to create particular effects and impressions.

The Ansel Adams Gallery. The official gallery of Ansel Adams works.

Russell Varian, The Pittcon Hall of Fame - Biography of Varian from the Chemical Heritage Foundation site dedicated to the history of significant scientists and their achievements.

What Majestic Word: In Memory of Russell Varian by Ansel Adams Portfolio Four: A Collection Held by Danville Area Community College. Brochure. Danville Area Community College. [2002.]

Why isn't What Majestic Word on the Web?

The reason images from What Majestic Word cannot be included on the College's web site is that DACC only owns one copy of the portfolio. The copyright and reproduction rights for this material still belongs to The Ansel Adams Gallery. So, while we might like to make the images more readily available, we are unable to. We hope, however, that this encourages you to come in and see the rotating collection at its permanent display location in the Library.


Images on this page, courtesy of :

Russell Varian - image courtesy of  Emilio Segre Visual Archive, American Institute of Physics
Russell Varian, a gifted physicist, co-invented the klystron radio tube, which was crucial to the development of radar and microwave technology. A passionate conservationist, he died in 1959 while in Alaska looking for sites for future national parks.

Russell Varian

The images in the display are intended to be accompanied by poetry written by Russell Varian and his father John. A copy of the accompanying poems is available at the Library Reference Desk. Varian, to whom the collection is dedicated, was a scientist with whom Adams had become acquainted in the Sierra Club. Adams said that Varian had "a life-long love affair with the rocks, trees, clouds, lights, and storms comprising the vast Divine Performance in which we live" (What).

If you have questions about this or any other library web page, contact a librarian at 443-8739 or by means of the convenient web form.
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Created January 30, 2006.