Yosemite Visionary and Conservationist Ansel Adams

Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls. Photo © Maridav/iStock.

One of Yosemite Valley’s most famous residents was Ansel Adams, the great photographer who captured Yosemite and many other national parks and beautiful landscapes in complex and delicate shades of black and white. Although most people are familiar with Adams’s famous photographs, fewer realize that the man had another well-developed talent: He was a concert-quality pianist. He met his wife, Virginia Best, because her father, painter Harry Best, owned one of only two pianos in Yosemite Valley and allowed Adams to practice there. Virginia and Adams were married in 1928 at Best’s Studio, which is now the Ansel Adams Gallery. When Harry Best died, his daughter and son-in-law took over the studio.

Adams made his first trip to Yosemite when he was only 14 years old. It was 1916, and his parents gave him a Box Brownie camera that he used to take his first pictures of Yosemite. A few years later he moved to the Valley to run the Sierra Club’s LeConte Memorial Lodge. He led hikes throughout the Valley and into the backcountry; in doing so, he developed a deep understanding of the nuances of light and shadow in the Sierra. Later he worked as a commercial photographer, shooting pictures for the Curry Company. Many of Adams’s images of skiers and toboggan riders are on display at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

Adams’s love of the camera won out over his musical ability, and over the years he started to shoot and sell more of his own artistic work. He was also a great conservationist and used his talent to photograph places that needed the attention of the federal government for protection and preservation. In 1934, he was elected to the Sierra Club Board of Directors, a position he held for 37 years. Soon after, the National Park Service hired him to photograph several national parks.

Adams and his wife continued to live in Yosemite Valley until the 1960s, when they moved to Carmel, California. The great photographer died in April 1984, but visitors can still find his spirit, and his photographs, at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village.

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