1902 - 1984
Mr. Adams, can you remember the first photograph that you ever took?
"Well, that would be hard because the family had an old 3 1/2 by 3 1/2 Kodak Bullseye and we'd just take pictures. I think the first photograph I was conscious of really trying to make was a picture taken whilst I was sitting on a rotten stump near Camp Curry. The stump gave way and I descended, I clicked the shutter and in some miraculous way I got the picture. When the film was developed at the local photofinishers, he said: "You must have held the camera upside down when you did this one." I was wracking my brains to figure out how I did do it. He showed me the whole roll and I thought that it must have happened when I fell off the stump. That was in the Yosemite Mountains during 1916 and as I became more interested in the mountains, my natural impulse was to have a visual diary. The excitement of Yosemite became strong and filtered through me into some aesthetic experiences which probably were supported by similar experiences I was having in music study......"
Was there any art background in your family at all?
"No, not in the family."
Why did you study music instead of photography?
"I studied music when I was about eight or nine. I forget the exact date, but I was very young. So I'd worked with music years before I even thought of using the camera."
So in fact, you ended up being a self-taught photographer?
"That's all you could be then as there was no school. I learned some sort of bread-and-butter things. In the summer of 1917 I learned a lot about developing, picture washing, the 'nuts and bolts' as we call it."
You got involved at a fairly young age with the conservation movement?
"Oh, yes, there was a club founded in 1896, but I didn't really have any direct interest in that until I got to Yosemite. In 1917 I joined the Sierra Club and in 1918 and 1919 I was custodian of the club memorial. Conservation was growing all the time because then we used the word conservation with a specific meaning. I don't use it at all now because it has lost its original meaning. You can conserve everything from beans to oil you know. I use the term environment. That really is more to the point."
Excerpts from Dialogue with Photography
by Paul Hill & Thomas Cooper 1979