Adams’ professional breakthrough followed the publication of his first portfolio, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, which included his famous image “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome.” The portfolio was a success, leading to a number of commercial assignments.
Between 1929 and 1942, Adams’ work and reputation developed. Adams expanded his repertoire, focusing on detailed close-ups as well as large forms, from mountains to factories. He spent time in New Mexico with artists including Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe and Paul Strand. He began to publish essays and instructional books on photography.
During this period, Adams joined photographers Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans in their commitment to affecting social and political change through art. Adams’ first cause was the protection of wilderness areas, including Yosemite. Adams also photographed life in the camps for a photo essay on wartime injustice during World War II.
Weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Adams shot a scene of the moon rising above a village. Adams re-interpreted the image—titled “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico”—over nearly four decades, making over a thousand unique prints that helped him to achieve financial stability.