In response to Mike's recent post about The Portfolios of Ansel Adams, Carsten Bockermann commented: "I bought The Portfolios of Ansel Adams on my first visit to the U.S. It was back in 1982, I was 16 at the time. The lady in a little bookstore in Carmel said 'Oh, that's too bad, you just missed Mr. Adams. He left a few minutes ago and went to the barber shop.' Needless to say, I found out where the barber shop was and got my copy signed right there, in the barber's chair."
I first met Ansel many years ago, at his home in Carmel, an unimposing structure at the end of a winding path leading to a bluff overlooking the Pacific. The place was not easy to find, but Maggie Weston, whose gallery I had just visited, had given me excellent directions. I wanted to interview Ansel for a piece I was writing on the intersection of art and commerce in photography, and he had graciously agreed.
In the midst of our conversation, my tape already spinning, I heard a chime. I looked toward the front door to see two small figures silhouetted against the wavy glass. Ansel answered the door himself. A middle-aged couple, tourists recently arrived from Japan, I soon learned, stood in the doorway. They wore broad grins. The man held a copy of Ansel's latest book.
"Autograph, please," the man said, handing the book to its famous author.
"Of course, of course," Ansel responded in a gentle voice that belied his craggy, weathered visage. "Please come in. You are welcome in my home."
It was clear that Ansel had not expected more visitors, but neither did he seem to feel the least bit put upon by their unannounced arrival. He asked them to spell their names, slowly please, then carefully wrote a personalized inscription, complete with a flourish, in their book. They bowed. He bowed. I even bowed. Then the man pulled out a snapshot camera and photographed his wife with Ansel Adams, the world's most famous photographer. She in turn photographed her husband with Ansel. Finally, they handed me the camera and I photographed all three, arm in arm, posing in front of Ansel's magnificent fireplace, beneath a huge antique gong that hung suspended above the fireplace.
With another kind of flourish, Ansel gave the gong a rap with a four-foot padded mallet, and the house reverberated with ancient tones. I imagined that even the whales migrating just offshore must have heard that deep, booming sound. More smiling and bowing followed. More unspoken communication between disparate cultures.
Finally, Ansel motioned his new friends, myself included, toward the grand piano in an ell just off the living room. He sat down to play, something short and sweet. I don't remember what the piece was. But if it wasn't Mozart, it should have been.
(Inset photograph by Nancy Newhall)
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by R. Edelman: "In 1983 I took a weekend trip to Carmel from San Francisco. While I was walking in Carmel, a Cadillac pulled up to the curb and parked. I figured that it had to be Ansel Adams' car, as the license plate read: 'Zone V.' A young man was driving and Ansel Adams was the passenger. After Mr. Adams got out of the car, I walked up to him and said: 'Mr. Adams, your photography has given me great pleasure over the years.' Well, he acted as if he had never received a compliment before! He smiled, grabbed my hand and shook it, and thanked me. What a gentleman!"
Featured Comment by Nancy Ori: "I think that I know Jim from many years ago. Let me know if that is true. My memory seems to be so full of so many things that stuff seems to get pushed to the back somehow.
"Anyway, nice story.
"I visited with Ansel many times at the Carmel house...usually with a cocktail in hand...he loved his cocktails too. I was a teaching assistant at his workshop series for eight seasons, probably some of the most important and memorable formative years for me as a young photographer.
"I have had a lifetime now as a professional photographer and teach all over the place. I try to always bring forth what I learned at Ansel's workshops...patience, sharing, looking, thinking, caring.
"In my experience, he was like a Santa Claus. You just wanted to hug him...which he was not opposed to. He was truly larger than life...being a big person didn't hurt either. But it was his energy that was so impressive. Granted, when I knew him in the late '70s he had already been discovered and had a lot of people around him to help with everything, but he had so much energy and excitement for his craft.
"I try to think about and draw inspiration from my times spent standing next to him on Glacier Point in Yosemite. What an awesome view and experience. There will always be great photographers coming along but no one like Ansel."