The Great San Francisco Earthquake & Fires of 1906

Ansel Adams & the 1906 Earthquake

Ansel AdamsRecognized internationally as a photographer and conservationist, Ansel Adams (1902-1984) helped establish photography as an art form. His work is renowned for its sharply detailed, panoramic landscape photos of the American West, especially of Yosemite National Park, California. He was co-founder with Edward Weston of the influential "Group f/64" and helped establish the department of photography at the New York Museum of Modern Art, as well as the photographic department of the California School of Fine Art in San Francisco.

He had numerous exhibitions worldwide, a one–man show at Alfred Stieglitzís gallery, An American Place, and retrospectives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He was a prolific writer, authoring seven portfolios and thirty books, and a frequent lecturer. He was also the director of the Sierra Club for several decades. Among his many honors are the Sierra Club's Muir Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

My world has been a world too few people are lucky enough to live in — one of peace and beauty. I believe in beauty. I believe in stones and water, air and soil, people and their future and their fate.

Adams's Reactions & Observations

Born in his familyís San Francisco flat in the Western Addition, Ansel’s father moved them to be near healthy ocean air. The family home, built on the sand dunes at the western edge of San Francisco facing the Pacific Ocean, was surrounded by gardens and an adjacent green house.

Ansel Adams was four years old when he survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. At 5:15 in the morning of April 18, Adams and his nanny, Nelly, were jolted awake by a major noise.

Our beds were moving violently about….The roaring, swaying, moving, and grinding continued for what seemed like a long time; it actually took less than a minute. Then, there was an eerie silence with only the surf sounds coming through the shattered window and an occasional crash of plaster and tinkle of glass from downstairs.

The home suffered some damage — the brick chimney of the greenhouse crashed, and his mother’s fireplace collapsed along with the living room fireplace. Adams, however, wore the mark of the disaster, a broken nose from a tumble into a brick garden wall during a severe aftershock. As Adams remarked later, " My closest experience with profound human suffering was that earthquake and fire."