Ansel Adams: A Chronology


William James Adams (paternal grandfather), whose ancestors had emigrated from Northern Ireland to New England in the early 1700s, born on August 11 in Thomaston, Maine.

Charles E. Bray (maternal grandfather) born April 10 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Cassandra Hills (paternal grandmother) born on January 13 in Cushing, Maine.

The invention of photography publicly demonstrated in Paris; daguerreotype process given freely to the world.

Nan Hiler (maternal grandmother) born December 31 in Georgetown, Ohio.

William James Adams, marries the young widow, Cassandra Hills McIntyre, in Thomaston, Maine. They move to California where they build a very successful lumber business in San Francisco.

Charles Bray moves to Keokuk, Iowa.

Charles Bray and Nan Hiler marry in Charleston, Iowa.

Olive Bray born December 21 in Charleston, Iowa. The Bray family proceeds west, living for several years in Sacramento, California before settling in Carson City, Nevada.

Charles Hitchcock Adams born May 25 in San Francisco to Cassandra and William, the last of their five children. "Unadilla," the Adams' twenty-three room family home, is constructed on fifty-four acres in what is now Atherton, California.

Yosemite becomes a National Park on October 1.

Sierra Club established with John Muir as its first president.

Charles Adams and Olive Bray marry in Carson City, Nevada.

Ansel Adams born in 1902

Ansel Easton Adams born on February 20, at 114 Maple Street, San Francisco, the only child of Olive and Charles.

The family home is completed in San Francisco at 129 Twenty-fourth Avenue, in the sand dune area overlooking the Golden Gate.

Virginia Rose Best born January 18.

Family survives the great San Francisco earthquake, though Adams falls during an aftershock and breaks his nose.

Grandfather Adams dies and the family lumber business fails. Charles Adams spends the rest of his life attempting to repay the debts of the failed business.

An enormously curious and gifted child, Adams begins a precarious and largely unsuccessful journey through the rigid structure of the public school system. Grandfather Bray and Aunt Mary Bray come to live with his family. "Unadilla" burns to the ground.

Teaches himself to play the piano and excels at serious music study with Marie Butler.

Despises the regimentation of a regular education, and is taken out of school. For that year, his father buys him a season pass to the Panama-Pacific Exposition, which he visits nearly every day. Private tutors provide further instruction.

Convinces parents to take family vacation in Yosemite National Park. Begins to photograph there with first camera given him by his parents. Develops an enthusiastic interest in both photography and the national park. Returns to Yosemite every year for the rest of his life.

Receives grammar school diploma from the Mrs. Kate M. Wilkins Private School, San Francisco, his only earned degree, although many honorary doctorates will be bestowed on him in later years. Though largely self-taught in photography, he begins part-time work at Frank Dittman's photo-finishing business.

Spends the first of four summers as custodian of the Sierra Club headquarters in Yosemite. While it is still a hobby, he begins to articulate his ideas about the creative potential of photography. Continues piano studies with professional ambitions, studying with Frederick Zech.

During second entire summer in Yosemite, finds a piano for practice at Best's Studio, a Yosemite concession selling paintings, photographs, books, and gifts. Meets Virginia, the daughter of the owner, Harry Best. Takes first high-country trip into the Sierra with Francis "Uncle Frank" Holman and Mistletoe, the burro.

Publishes first article and has his first photograph reproduced, of trek to the Lyell Fork of the Merced River, in the Sierra Club Bulletin.

Cedric Wright, who will become his best friend, introduces him to the philosophy of Elbert Hubbard and Edward Carpenter.

Decides to become a concert pianist and purchases a Mason and Hamlin grand piano, the finest available. Explores the Kings River Canyon with the LeConte family. Takes a similar trip the following summer.

Takes initial trip to Carmel with Albert Bender, who becomes his first patron, meets Robinson Jeffers there.

Makes his first acknowledged masterpiece, Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, in April. He considers this image to be his first "visualization," using the term to describe the photographer's determination of the visual and emotional qualities of the finished print even before exposing the negative. Publishes initial portfolio, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras (sic) (San Francisco: Jean Chambers Moore). Goes on first Sierra Club outing. Travels with Bender in California, Arizona, and New Mexico, where he meets Mary Austin, Witter Bynner, and others.

Marries Virginia Rose Best on January 2 in Yosemite. First one-person exhibition held at Sierra Club, San Francisco. His photographs will be included in more than 500 exhibitions during his lifetime.

Photographs at Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico for a book project. In Taos, meets Georgia O'Keeffe and John Marin at Mable Dodge Luhan's estate. In Yosemite writes words, selects music, and acts a leading role for The Bracebridge Dinner, a Christmas production that becomes an annual event.

Meets Paul Strand in Taos, becomes committed to a full-time career in photography after understanding Strand's total dedication to creative photography and seeing his negatives. Builds a home and studio at 131 Twenty-fourth Avenue, San Francisco, adjoining his parents' home. Publishes Taos Pueblo, containing 12 original photographs with text by Mary Austin. Begins accepting commercial photography assignments, one of his first being catalogue pictures for Gump's, the San Francisco specialty store. Yosemite Park and Curry Company becomes his most frequent client and he continues commercial work into the early 1970s.

Begins writing photography column for The Fortnightly; reviews Eugene Atget and Edward Weston exhibitions that year. Solo exhibition of 60 prints at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

With Imogen Cunningham, Willard Van Dyke, Edward Weston, and other proponents of pure photography, founds Group f.64, and is part of the renowned Group f.64 exhibition at the M. H. de Young Museum, San Francisco. Also has a solo at the de Young. Makes the photographs Frozen Lake and Cliffs, The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, and Rose and Driftwood.

Son Michael born August 1 in Yosemite. Meets Alfred Stieglitz at his gallery, An American Place, in New York City. Opens Ansel Adams Gallery at 166 Geary Street, San Francisco as a center for creative photography. First New York City exhibition at Delphic Studios.

Elected to the Board of directors of the Sierra Club. Begins publishing a series of technical articles, "An Exposition of My Photographic Technique," in Camera Craft. Writes a coherent thesis of his aesthetic beliefs, "The New Photography," Modern Photography 1934-35, (London and New York: The Studio Publications).

Daughter Anne born March 8 in San Francisco. Initiates a Conservation Forum in Yosemite to consider the preservation of California's landscape values. Publishes technical book, Making A Photograph; An Introduction to Photography, (The Studio Publications). First publication of his "Personal Credo" in Camera Craft. Teaches at Art Students League Workshop in San Francisco.

Solo exhibition at An American Place, New York. Lobbies Congress in Washington, D. C., on behalf of the Sierra Club for the establishment of Kings Canyon National Park. Moves to Berkeley, where he and Virginia live for several months in a Bernard Maybeck-designed home. Virginia inherits Best's Studio after her father's death. Makes the photograph, Clearing Winter Storm late in the year or early in the next.

The Adamses move to Yosemite in the spring, where they take over the proprietorship of Best's Studio. His Yosemite darkroom burns, destroying more than 5,000 of his negatives. He continues to work and maintain a professional studio in San Francisco. Takes photography treks with Edward Weston through the High Sierra and with Georgia O'Keeffe and David McAlphin through the Southwest. Photographs included in the first historical survey of the medium at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Hires Rondal Partridge as photographic assistant through 1940.

Takes O'Keeffe and McAlpin through Yosemite and the High Sierra. Photographs with Edward Weston in the Owens Valley. Publishes Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail (Berkeley: Archetype Press).

Meets Beaumont and Nancy Newhall in New York. Has major exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Makes the photograph, Merced River, Cliffs, Autumn.

Teaches first Yosemite workshop, the U. S. Camera Photographic Forum, in Yosemite with Edward Weston. Organizes exhibition and edits the catalogue for "The Pageant of Photography" held at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco. Helps found the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, with Newhall and McAlpin. Makes the series of five photographs, Surf Sequence.

Develops his Zone System technique of exposure and development control while teaching at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. Begins the mural project to photograph national parks and monuments for the Department of the Interior, but project is canceled the next year because of World War II. Makes his best-known masterpiece, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, on October 31 at 4:05 p.m. Publishes Michael and Anne in Yosemite Valley, text by Virginia Adams (The Studio Publications).

Makes the photographs The Tetons and Snake River, and Leaves, Mount Rainier.

Photographs at Manzanar Relocation Center, begins Born Free and Equal photo-essay on the loyal Japanese-Americans interned there.

Publishes Born Free and Equal, (New York: U. S. Camera) and exhibits 61 prints from Manzanar at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photographs in California with Dorothea Lange for the Office of War Information. Makes the photograph, Winter Sunrise, The Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine. Paul Strand visits in Yosemite.

Makes the photograph Mount Williamson.

Receives the Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship to photograph the national parks and monuments. Founds Department of Photography at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, later named the San Francisco Art Institute. Hires Minor White to teach with him. Publishes Illustrated Guide to Yosemite Valley, with Virginia Adams (San Francisco: H. S. Crocker).

Does extensive photography in the national parks, makes first photographic trips to Alaska and Hawaii. Makes the photographs White Branches, Mono Lake and Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake.

Guggenheim Fellowship renewed. Makes the photographs Sand Dune, Sunrise, and Tenaya Creek, Dogwood, Rain. Begins friendship with Dr. Edwin Land. Sierra Club issues Portfolio I, with 12 Adams original prints in an edition of 75. Publishes first two volumes of his Basic Photo Series 1: Camera and Lens and 2: The Negative (Hastings-on-Hudson, New York: Morgan & Morgan) as well as Yosemite and the High Sierra, edited by Charlotte E. Mauk with selected words of John Muir (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). Gives speech to the Photo League in New York.

Becomes consultant to the newly founded Polaroid Corporation.

His mother, Olive, dies. Sierra Club issues Portfolio II, The National Parks & Monuments, with 15 photographs in an edition of 105. Publishes third volume of Basic Photo Series 3: The Print (Morgan & Morgan), also My Camera in Yosemite Valley (Yosemite: V. Adams and Boston: Houghton Mifflin), My Camera in the National Parks (Adams and Houghton Mifflin) and a reprint of the 1903 title The Land of Little Rain, text by Mary Austin, with Adams photographs (Houghton Mifflin).

His father, Charles, dies. Hires Pirkle Jones, who had previously developed negatives for him when he was on extended trips, as his photographic assistant through 1953.

Publishes Basic Photo Series 4: Natural Light Photography (Morgan & Morgan). Exhibition at the George Eastman House, Rochester. Helps found Aperture, a journal of creative photography, with the Newhalls, White, and others.

November 2 issue of Time magazine features photography. Photographers mentioned in article include Adams, whose color photograph of Mono Lake is reproduced.

Publishes Death Valley (Palo Alto: 5 Associates), Mission San Xavier del Bac (5 Associates) and The Pageant of History in Northern California (San Francisco: American Trust Co.), which includes a view of the UC Berkeley campus. Nancy Newhall contributes the text for all three books. Life magazine publishes article by Daniel Dixon featuring photographs by Adams and Dorothea Lange on the Mormons in Utah.

The Ansel Adams Yosemite Workshop, an intense short-term creative photography learning experience, begins as an annual event.

Organizes with Nancy Newhall the exhibition "This Is the American Earth" for the Sierra Club that is circulated by the United States Information Service (USIS). Publishes Basic Photo Series 5: Artificial-Light Photography (Morgan & Morgan). Don Worth becomes a photographic assistant through 1960, and Gerry Sharpe works on special projects through the early 1960s.

Begins producing small, inexpensive Special Edition Prints of a number of his Yosemite photographs, printed by assistants and for sale only at Best's Studio as a quality souvenir of the park. Film Ansel Adams, Photographer produced by Larry Dawson and directed by David Meyers; script by Nancy Newhall, narrated by Beaumont Newhall.

Receives third Guggenheim Fellowship. Makes the photographs Aspens, Northern New Mexico in both horizontal and vertical formats. Publishes the Islands of Hawaii, text by Edward Joesting (Honolulu: Bishop National Bank of Hawaii). Presented Brehm Memorial Award for distinguished contributions to photography by the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Publishes Yosemite Valley, edited by Nancy Newhall (5 Associates). Moderates a series of five films for television, Photography, the Incisive Art, directed by Robert Katz.

Sierra Club issues Portfolio III, Yosemite Valley, containing 16 photographs in an edition of 208. Makes the photograph Moon and Half Dome. Publishes This Is the American Earth, text by Nancy Newhall (Sierra Club).

Receives honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Builds a home and studio, designed by E. T. Spencer, overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Carmel Highlands, California. Over the next two decades, he produces in the spacious darkroom most of the fine prints made during his career. Publishes Death Valley and the Creek Called Furnace, text by Edwin Corle (Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie) and These We Inherit; The Parklands of America (Sierra Club).


The Eloquent Light, a retrospective exhibition with prints from 1923 to 1963 shown at the de Young Museum. Receives the Sierra Club's John Muir Award. Sierra Club issues Portfolio IV, What Majestic Word, with 15 photographs in an edition of 260. Publishes Polaroid Land Photography Manual (Morgan & Morgan) and the first volume of a biography, Ansel Adams: Volume 1, The Eloquent Light, text by Nancy Newhall (Sierra Club). The planned subsequent volume was not completed. Publishes revised edition of Illustrated Guide to Yosemite Valley (Sierra Club). Liliane De Cock becomes photographic assistant through 1971. Begins annual New Year's Day open house for their friends.

Publishes An Introduction To Hawaii text by Edward Joesting (5 Associates).

Takes a more active role in President Johnson's environmental task force, photographs published in the President's report. A More Beautiful America... (New York: American Conservation Association). Major exhibition, Ansel Adams: The Redwood Empire, held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, circulated a decade later by the California Historical Society.

Elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Principal founder, president, and later chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Friends of Photography, Carmel. Over the next two decades the Friends will become the world's largest non-profit creative photography membership organization. Received honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Occidental College. Publishes centennial book, Fiat Lux: The University of California, text by Nancy Newhall (New York: Mc Graw Hill).

Makes the photograph El Capitan, Winter, Sunrise. Receives Conservation Service Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Delivers Alfred Stieglitz Memorial Lecture at Princeton University. Receives Progress Medal from the Photographic Society of America.

Receives Chubb Fellowship from Yale University. Parasol Press issues Portfolio V, with 10 prints in an edition of 110. Publishes The Tetons and the Yellowstone, text by Nancy Newhall (5 Associates) and revised edition of Basic Photo Series 1: Camera and Lens (Morgan & Morgan). The revised edition featured ten photographs that Adams took for the University of California centennial project.

Following 37 years of service, resigns position as a director of the Sierra Club. William A. Turnage hired and becomes his business manager through 1977.

Exhibits retrospective Recollected Moments, at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; show is sent by USIS to Europe and South America. Publishes a monograph, Ansel Adams, edited by Liliane De Cock (Morgan & Morgan). Best's Studio is renamed the AnselAdams Gallery. Ted Orland becomes photographic assistant until1974.

First trip to Europe, where he teaches at Arles, France, Photography Festival. Major exhibition, "Photographs by Ansel Adams," initiated and circulated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, later travels to Europe and Russia, through 1977. Receives honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Parasol Press issues Portfolio VI, with 10 prints in an edition of 110. Publishes Singular Images (Morgan & Morgan) and Images 1923-1974 (Boston: New York Graphic Society [NYGS]). Andrea Gray becomes executive assistant until 1980 and Alan Ross becomes photographic assistant until 1979.

Stops taking individual print orders effective at the end of the year, but the 3,000 photographs requested by December 31st take three years to print. Helps found the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, Tucson, where his archive is established. Receives honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from that university. Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust (AAPRT) established to advise him on publishing decisions and posthumously to determine and authorize publications.

Parasol Press issues Portfolio VII, with 12 images in an edition of 115. Meets President Ford at the White House to discuss environmental policy. Returns to Arles Photography Festival during second European trip and photographs in Scotland, Switzerland and France. Elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. Publishes Photographs of the Southwest (NYGS). Lectures in London, Tucson, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Attends the opening of a major exhibition of his work at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Begins exclusive publishing agreement with Little, Brown and Company's New York Graphics Society division.

Publishes The Portfolios of Ansel Adams (NYGS) and facsimile reprint of the book Taos Pueblo (NYGS). With Virginia, endows a curatorial fellowship at the Museum of Modern Art in honor of Beaumont and Nancy Newhall. Exhibition, "Photographs of the Southwest 1928-1968," organized and circulated by the Center for Creative Photography. Begins complete revision of his technical books with the collaboration of Robert Baker.

Publishes Ansel Adams: 50 Years of Portraits, by James Alinder (Carmel: The Friends of Photography) and Polaroid Land Photography (NYGS). Elected Honorary Vice President of the Sierra Club. Selected as an honorary member of the Moscow Committee of Graphic Artists, Photography Section.

Subject of Time magazine cover story. Dramatic increase in sales of Adams' fine prints in public auctions and through photography dealers, leading to a significant expansion of interest in collecting creative photography. Major retrospective exhibition, "Ansel Adams and the West," held at the Museum of Modern Art. Publishes Yosemite and the Range of Light (NYGS); eventual sales total more than 200,000 copies in hard and softcover editions. Begins printing his Museum Set, 75 prints representative of his life's work. Founding member and vice president of the board of Trustees, the Big Sur Foundation. Lectures in Carmel, New York, San Francisco, Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, and Minneapolis. Begins writing his autobiography with Mary Alinder, who is employed as his chief of staff. John Sexton becomes photographic assistant through 1982.

Receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President Carter. Receives the first Ansel Adams Award for Conservation given by The Wilderness Society. Publishes The New Ansel Adams Photography Series Book 1, The Camera (NYGS). Exhibition, "Ansel Adams: Photographs of the American West," organized by The Friends of Photography for the USICA and circulated through 1983 in India, the Middle East, and Africa.

Receives honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Harvard University. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden presents him with second Hasselblad Gold Medal Award. Named Honored Photographer at the national meeting of the Society for Photographic Education. Holds final workshop in Yosemite, then transfers workshop location to Carmel area under administration of The Friends of Photography. Publishes Book 2 in his revised technical series, The Negative (NYGS) and begins publishing a series of finely printed posters. Hour-long biographical film, Ansel Adams, Photographer, coproduced by Andrea Gray and John Huszar for FilmAmerica. Mural-size print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico is sold for $71,500, a record high for a creative photograph.

At eightieth birthday celebration is presented the Decoration of Commander of the Order of the Arts and Letters, the highest cultural award given by the French government to a foreigner. Two exhibitions, "The Eightieth Birthday Retrospective" and "The Unknown Ansel Adams," honor the event at the Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art and The Friends of Photography Gallery. Pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy plays a concert for him in his Carmel Highlands home. Receives honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Mills College. His 1936 Steiglitz gallery exhibition is recreated and circulated by the Center for Creative Photography as "Ansel Adams at An American Place." Chris Rainier becomes photographic assistant until 1985.

Publishes Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs; Book 3 of the new technical series, The Print; and begins a series of annual calendars illustrated with his work. Subject of an extensive interview in Playboy magazine. Meets with President Reagan on environmental concerns. Elected an honorary member in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Exhibition "Ansel Adams: Photographer," is organized by The Friends of Photography as a cultural exchange between the sister cities of San Francisco and Shanghai, China. Exhibition also travels to Beijing, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. Ansel Adams Day proclaimed by the California State Legislature.

Dies April 22 of heart failure aggravated by cancer. Major stories appear on all primary television networks and on the front page of most newspapers nationwide. A commemorative exhibition and memorial celebration are held in Carmel. California Senators Alan Cranston and Pete Wilson sponsor successful legislation to create an Ansel Adams Wilderness Area of more than 100,000 acres between Yosemite National Park and the John Muir Wilderness Area. Unanimously elected as an honoree of the International Photography Hall of Fame. A memorial book, Ansel Adams 1902-1984, published by The Friends of Photography.

Ansel Adams death in 1984

Mount Ansel Adams, a 11,760-foot peak located at the head of the Lyell Fork of the Merced River on the southeast boundary of Yosemite National Park, officially named on the first anniversary of his death. Ansel Adams: An Autobiography (with Mary Street Alinder) published in October (NYGS). The autobiography reaches many bestseller registers, including seventh on the New York Times list. Pacific Telesis begins sponsorship of ongoing exhibition of its Museum Set with "Ansel Adams: Classic Images," shown first at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC where it drew some 6,000 visitors a day.

NYGS publishes Ansel Adams: Classic Images, text by James Alinder and John Szarkowski.

Major exhibition "Ansel Adams: One With Beauty," at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco.

NYGS publishes Ansel Adams, Letters and Images 1916-1984, edited by Mary Street Alinder and Andrea Gray Stillman, foreward by Wallace Stegner. Times Books publishes Manzanar by John Armor and Peter Wright, commentary by John Hersey.

The Ansel Adams Center, headquarters of The Friends of Photography, opens at 250 Fourth Street, San Francisco, with one of its five gallaries permanently dedicated to exhibiting his photography. Reverie Press publishes The Mural Project, photography by Ansel Adams, introduction by Peter Wright & John Armor.

[Source:, 14-Jan-2002]

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