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  • Writer's pictureChester B Simpson

Meeting Ansel Adams

“You are the future of photography, always help each other out and learn the business of photography, that way you will be carrying on my legacy.”

As a young photography student at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1976, we had a student showdown in Carmel, CA. So, myself and fellow photography student Jeff Good decided to hitch-hike to Carmel and attend the opening and bring our cameras.

After several rides, we arrived and went inside to see the show. All of a sudden, dogs started showing up in the gallery, and in walked Ansel Adams looking at the photos that were displayed on the walls. After taking the time to look at all the photos, he decided to hang out outside with his dogs. So, everyone came outside and sat around a circle with Ansel in the middle. Everyone was thrilled to be in his presence and happy that he was interested in seeing the photo work of students.

In 1945, Adams was asked to form the first fine art photography department at the San Francisco Art Institute. That is the reason why I wanted to study photography there.

I guess we all talked for about 45 minutes, when Ansel said, “Let us all go to my house, I live right down the road. So, follow me.”

Ansel followed by his dogs, climbed in his old station wagon and so about 25 people got in their cars, and we all proceeded to follow him to his home.

Upon arriving and parking his station wagon, Ansel directed and helped people park in his front yard. His wife, Virginia came outside looking at all the cars parking in her yard and asked Ansel who all these people were. He said, “These are friends of mine!”

Their house has trees all around it with a beautiful view overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The gracious host that he was, he opened up his whole house to us and had his two printer/assistants become bartenders and serve us wine and whiskey. With drinks in hand, he led us through a large room filled with camera equipment, lens, and photo paper. He said, when he was starting out in his career, he could only afford used equipment, but today all the photography manufacturers send him their newest cameras, lenses, and paper hoping that he will promote them. He said he donates the stuff to different photo departments around the country to help young photographers.

We proceeded to his darkroom, where he demonstrated how he did his printing. For each negative, he showed us he had a drawing of the photo image on index cards with instructions on the type of paper to use, where the dodging and burning should occur, and how much is needed. He asked us why he did this? Then answered his own question.

When he is dead and gone, he did not want some young photography student printing his pictures without using his formula written on the card, because they were not there, and they did see it as he did.

He lectured us all about helping young photographers and why we should not be intimidated by other photographers because everyone sees things differently. It is like everyone has their own signature which is different.

The sun was setting so he banged on the African drum over his fireplace to get everyone’s attention. He invited us to view the setting sun and to hoist our drinks in the air as he made a toast to the future of photography.

Being the great host, he proceeded to introduce himself to each and every young student in the room inquiring, “Who are you and what type of photography do you do?”

I remember, one of the students asking him, “We are only students, why do you care about us?”

Ansel with his smile and sparkling eyes responded, “You are the future of photography, always help each other out and learn the business of photography, that way you will be carrying on my legacy.”

It was getting late, and Ansel was tired, so his wife politely said it was time to go. Ansel thanked us for showing up and invited us back anytime we were in the area to visit him again. He also proclaimed that he would sell us any 11x14 Ansel Adams print of our choice for $150, that he printed and would sign on the spot for us.

I did not have the money but wished I had, and I was too shy to ask him to take his picture. One of my bigger regrets.

It was a wonderful thing to meet such a famous and well-known photographer, who encouraged us all that day, and that helped shape my photography career.

Check out photographs by the artist: Rock-n-roll Photography

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