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Ansel Adams, Photographer

By William Turnage, Reprinted courtesy of the author and Oxford University Press

Ansel Adams, photographer and environmentalist, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Charles Hitchcock Adams, a businessman, and Olive Bray. The grandson of a wealthy timber baron, Adams grew up in a house set amid the sand dunes of the Golden Gate. When Adams was only four, an aftershock of the great earthquake and fire of 1906 threw him to the ground and badly broke his nose, distinctly marking him for life. A year later the family fortune collapsed in the financial panic of 1907, and Adams’s father spent the rest of his life doggedly but fruitlessly attempting to recoup.

An only child, Adams was born when his mother was nearly forty. His relatively elderly parents, affluent family history, and the live-in presence of his mother’s maiden sister and aged father all combined to create an environment that was decidedly Victorian and both socially and emotionally conservative. Adams’s mother spent much of her time brooding and fretting over her husband’s inability to restore the Adams fortune, leaving an ambivalent imprint on her son. Charles Adams, on the other hand, deeply and patiently influenced, encouraged, and supported his son.

Ansel Adams’ Rare Photos of Everyday Life in a Japanese Internment Camp

Ansel Adams was already world-famous for his groundbreaking black-and-white photographs of the American West when he was invited by his friend Ralph Merritt to document the Manzanar War Relocation Center, a Japanese internment camp, where Merritt was director. It was a risky career move for a man so thoroughly established as a landscape photographer, but Adams was compelled to witness life there and make a record of it.