Little-known Ansel Adams photos of UCSD on display

Breezeway between Bonner and Mayer hall, Ansel Adams. Copyright UC Riverside Museum of Photography
Breezeway between Bonner and Mayer hall, Ansel Adams. Copyright UC Riverside Museum of Photography

By Greg Alder


Ansel Adams, one of the American West's most beloved photographers, famous for his black-and-white images of Yosemite National Park, once took pictures of UCSD. Who knew?

In 1963, the University of California commissioned Adams to photograph all of the campuses for its centennial celebration book, "Fiat Lux."

Since then, the negatives of the images have been stored at the Museum of Photography at UC Riverside. But now, a selection of them is on display in the Mandeville Special Collections Library, just inside the entrance to UCSD's Geisel Library.

"I picked out some of the better shots, the classic images," said Lynda Corey Claassen, the director of the Mandeville Special Collections Library, who is responsible for the exhibition.

On display are portraits of figures who were instrumental in the early years of the university, such as the founding provost of Muir College, John Stewart, shown in one photograph standing beside a bicycle, smiling broadly, with the campus's iconic eucalyptus trees in the background.

There are also photographs Adams took of Walter Munk, Nobel Prize winner Harold Urey, Carl L. Hubbs, Per Fredrik Scholander, and UCSD's first librarian Melvin Voigt.

Pictures of Margaret and Geoffrey Burbidge, founding members of the Department of Physics, show them both at work. Margaret is before microscope and Geoffrey is smoking a cigar in his office, surrounded by a whorl of papers.

The black-and-white Adams photographs also depict some structures from the young campus that remain today, albeit in evolved forms. There is a shot of the old Scripps Pier. The beach is empty but for three surfers walking along the beach, their boards all over 8-feet long.

Some of the photographs now on display have never before been published. "Fiat Lux" contained only 10 images of UCSD, but Adams shot 70 in all.

Claassen was able to print and format 19 photographs with a grant from the chancellor as part of UCSD's 50-year anniversary celebration.

"Students are really enjoying them," says Claassen. "They're saying, 'I didn't know Ansel Adams took pictures of UCSD!'"

The photos were originaally set to be on display until April 1, but their popularity has caused Claassen to extend that date to May 1.

To see more about “Fiat Lux” go to




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