I first met Ansel in 1972 when he came to New York to discuss an exhibition of his photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I worked. I was immediately impressed by his open friendly demeanor, his sense of humor and his modesty. We worked together for two years on his retrospective, and after it opened in the spring of 1974 he asked me to move to Carmel and become his assistant. I leapt at the chance, and for the next six years I worked for Ansel in his home studio. He always had a photographic assistant to help in the darkroom, so I did everything else. This included managing the sale of hundreds of his photographs - everything from telling Ansel which negative to print to approving the final mounted photograph and writing the title on the back. I also edited his writing and lectures and worked with him on innumerable books of his photographs – selecting the images, assisting with the production, and working on press to assure the best reproductions. I also accompanied him on many trips to open exhibitions and promote new books. One of my last tasks was to organize his extensive archive. It included an enormous correspondence with artists like Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Edward Weston and hundreds of his photographs made over more than fifty years–ranging from a unique3 1⁄4x4 1⁄4inch contact print of lodgepole pines in the High Sierra made when he was nineteen years old to an enormous 40 x 60 inch mural size print of Mount McKinley made in the 1960s. In addition I produced a one-hour documentary on his life for public television.
Ansel died in 1984, but I continue to work on his photographic legacy. I edit books of his photographs for The Ansel Adams Trust. I curate exhibitions of his photographs, including a recreation of his seminal exhibition in 1936 at Alfred Stieglitz’s New York gallery. I appraise, buy and sell his work for collectors and museums. I lecture at museums all over the country including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Chicago Art Institute, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Houston Museum of Art, and the Corcoran Gallery. I am currently writing a book about Ansel’s photographs including my personal experiences to be published in 2012 by Little, Brown and Company.
On an April morning in 1927, Adams undertook a difficult four-thousand-foot climb through heavy snow to the granite outcropping known as the Diving Board, where he set up his 6 1⁄2 x 8 1⁄2 inch view camera, inserted a glass plate, and waited for the light to fall directly on the sheer granite cliff. He made one exposure with a yellow filter. Then it occurred to him that if he used a dark red filter, both sky and cliff would register darker in the finished print than in the actual scene. He changed to the red filter, with this dramatic result. He described this episode as his first “visualization” – his attempt to express the emotional and aesthetic feelings he experienesed at the time he made the photograph. Adams considered it a seminal moment in his development as a photographer.
On four successive mornings Adams tried to take this photograph of the east side of the Sierra Nevada. On the fifth day it was still dark and bitterly cold when he set up his camera on the new platform on top of his car and retreated to the warm interior. As dawn drew near, he returned to the camera to await the sun’s first rays on the meadow. “I finally encountered a bright, glistening sunrise with light clouds streaming from the southwest and casting swift moving shadows on the meadow and dark rolling hills.” At the last possible moment, the horse turned to offer a profile view. Many years later he wrote, “Sometimes I think I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter!”
One early evening in Alaska in July 1947 Adams set up his 8 x 10 inch view camera to frame this image of Mount McKinley, thirty miles distant, then left for his cabin and went to bed. He rose at midnight, returned to his camera, and waited for dawn. “About 1:30 A.M., the top of the mountain turned pink,” he wrote. “Then gradually the entire sky became golden and the mountain received more sunlight.” After he clicked the shutter, he tried two more photographs, “but within thirty minutes clouds had gathered and obscured the summit, and they soon enveloped the entire mountain.” Adams had photographed extensively in the Sierra Nevada, the Rockies, and the Southwest, but he had not encountered anything like the majestic scale of Alaska. The experience moved him profoundly and inspired him to strengthen his commitment to wilderness conservation.