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Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film (2002)

An in depth study of Adams's life and work.


Ric Burns


Ric Burns
1 win & 1 nomination. See more awards »


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Cast overview:
Ansel Adams ... Himself (archive footage)
Josh Hamilton Josh Hamilton ... Reader (voice)
Barbara Feldon ... Reader (voice)
John Szarkowski John Szarkowski ... Photographer
Carl Pope Carl Pope ... Sierra Club
Jonathan Spaulding Jonathan Spaulding ... Biographer
William Turnage William Turnage ... Ansel Adams Trust
Andrea Gray Stillman Andrea Gray Stillman ... Editor
Mary Street Alinder Mary Street Alinder ... Biographer
Anne Adams Helms Anne Adams Helms ... Daughter
Michael Adams Michael Adams ... Son
John Sexton John Sexton ... Photographer
Alan Ross Alan Ross ... Photographer


This American Experience documentary which aired on WGBH, Boston, in 2002, explores the many sides of legendary photographer Ansel Adams. Most associate him with black and white images of Yosemite and other wilderness areas he captured with his large format camera. His passion for nature is well-known. But, Adams had another interest so intense that he was forced to make a decision early in his life as to what would occupy most of his energy, photography or classical music performance. The latter he pursued in his birthplace, San Francisco, and had he not spent quite as much time outdoors and particularly in Yosemite Valley, we might be missing some of the world's most famous and most beautiful photographs. In typical Ric Burns fashion, we are presented a satisfying overview of this the man who was most influential in making photography into art. This effort is one of the director's most intimate efforts, perhaps because of his love of the subject matter. The film satisfies our need ... Written by Michael Carter

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Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:

PBS [United States]





Release Date:

21 April 2002 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Adams himself carried a thirty-pound pack full of photographic equipment; that in addition to the hundred pounds packed on his mule, Mistletoe. See more »

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User Reviews

Inspiring, beautiful, insightful
9 March 2013 | by FearNtremblngSee all my reviews

It was three years when I, a naive adolescent with a burgeoning love of film and photography, was lying on a mattress beside the fire place at 1 o'clock in the morning, trying desperately to fall asleep. I had the television on, hoping the colours and sounds would lull me to sleep when I grew tired of whatever was on and started flipping through the channels.

"Ansel Adams": the words beamed out at me from the TV guide; immediately I was reminded of a spectacular photograph hanging in the doctor's office I would often stare at as I waited for my name to be called. In the lower right hand of that photo was the name Ansel Adams. I've never forgot that.

I quickly changed the channel to TVO - the last great Canadian television channel - and watched, and watched, and watched.... Whatever promise there was of getting to sleep was suddenly no more. I was glued to the television as one magnificent photo after another was presented, in-between some very interesting facts and commentaries on the legend himself.

By the time 1:30 rolled around it was safe to say photography was now a passion of mine, even if I had very little experience. It's been three years and I've been trying to track down this documentary whenever I am reminded of it, and until yesterday I thought the quest was hopeless. But when I found this IMDb page and subsequently the torrent file, I discovered this was the same PBS documentary that captivated me three years ago.

I'll admit, the second time around I was not as enthused, but it is still a remarkable documentary. There are breathtaking photographs and some very insightful/interesting dialogue, especially the stuff by Ansel himself. I'm not so sure why it didn't make the same impression on me the second viewing, but I assume it had more to do with the perfect atmosphere in which I first saw it: my naiveté; my burgeoning interest; the fire; the stillness and remoteness of the night hours; and the larger-than-life persona whom I connected to the nostalgic memory of sitting in the doctor's office, wondering the story behind this amazing print.

Nevertheless, I cannot recommend it enough to anyone with an appreciation for art and/or photography.

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