The Photograph That Saved the Planet
Some claim photography can be divided into two eras: Before Adams and After Adams. In Times B.A., for instance, photography wasn’t widely considered an art form. Rather, photographers attempted to make their pictures more "artistic" (i.e., more like paintings) by subjecting their exposures to all sorts of extreme manipulations, from coating their lenses with petroleum jelly to scratching the surfaces of their negatives with needles. Then came Ansel Adams, helping shutterbugs everywhere get over their collective inferiority complex.
Brashly declaring photography to be "a blazing poetry of the real," Adams eschewed manipulations, claiming they were simply derivative of other art forms. Instead, he preached the value of "pure photography." In an era when handheld point-and-shoot cameras were quickly becoming the norm, Adams and other landscape photographers clung to their bulky, old-fashioned large-format cameras. Ultimately, Adams’ pictures turned photography into fine art. What’s more, they shaped the way Americans thought of their nation’s wilderness and, with that, how to preserve it.
Adams’ passion for the land wasn’t limited to vistas he framed through the lens. In 1936, he accompanied his photos to Washington to lobby for the preservation of the Kings Canyon area in California. Sure enough, he was successful, and it was declared a national park.