Archives of American Art

Ansel and Virginia Adams letters from Imogen Cunningham

Collection ID:
Adams, Ansel, 1902-1984
Cunningham, Imogen, 1883-1976
Adams, Virginia Best
Physical Description:
2 Items

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The Ansel and Virginia Adams letters from Imogen Cunningham consist of two letters from Imogen Cunningham to Ansel and Virginia Adams. One letter is regarding the death of Charles Mayhew, the Adams' son-in-law; the other is regarding a Group f/64 meeting, a photography group organized by Ansel Adams.

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Ansel Adams (1902-1984) was an American landscape photographer known for his black and white images of the American West. He took some of his earliest photographs at national parks and as a member of the Sierra Club, which he joined at the age of 17. He was later contracted with the United States Department of the Interior to make photographs of national parks. In 1980, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work and environmental advocacy.
With Fred Archer, Adams developed the Zone System, a technique to determine the ideal film exposure and development to achieve full tonal range. The clarity and depth resulting from this technique characterized Adams's photography.
Adams was a key advisor in establishing the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and helped to stage their first exhibition. He helped found Group f/64, an association of photographers who advocated for "pure" photography favoring sharp focus and the use of the full tonal range of a photograph. He also helped found the photography magazine Aperture, and co-founded the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.
Virginia Best Adams (1904-2000) and Ansel Adams married in 1928. After her father, Harry Best, passed away in 1936, Virginia Best Adams managed Best's Studio (now the Ansel Adams Gallery), selling high quality merchandise including a series of Ansel Adams photographs called special edition prints. She was an active environmentalist and served on the board of directors of the Sierra Club from 1931 to 1933, was a Trustee of the Yosemite Natural History Association, and was also an avid mountaineer, credited with making the first ascent by a woman of a route on Mt. Whitney in what is now Sequoia National Park.
Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) was a photographer in California known for her botanical photography, nudes, and industrial landscapes. Cunningham began her career producing soft-focus prints in the tradition of pictorialism. In the early 1920s she shifted focus to close-up, sharply detailed studies of plant life and other natural forms. In 1932, Cunningham joined Ansel Adams in Group f/64, a group formed in opposition to pictorialism and dedicated to precisely exposed images.

Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated 2009 by Anne Adams Helms, Ansel Adams' daughter.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

Related Materials
The Archives of American Art also holds the Ansel Adams correspondence with Imogen Cunningham, 1949-1976; the Imogen Cunningham papers, 1903-1991; and an oral history interview with Imogen Cunningham, 1975 June 9 conducted by Louise Katzman and Paul Karlstrom. The University of California, Berkeley Bancroft Library holds the Ansel Adams collection and the University of California, Los Angeles Charles E. Young Research Library holds the Ansel Adams Papers, 1938-1944. The University of Arizona, Center for Creative Photography holds the Ansel Adams archive, the Ansel Adams Miscellaneous Acquisitions collection, the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust, and the Imogen Cunningham Miscellaneous Acquisitions Collection, 1920s-1974.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Photography Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographers -- California Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women artists Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Group f.64 Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
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