« Carrying a Camera Painlessly (Two Skillsets to Work On and Memorize) | Main | Open Mike: Championship Sunday (OT) »

Friday, 26 January 2024


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

In fall 1972, then a newlywed Air Force lieutenant, I managed to get tickets to the Bracebridge Dinner, an annual Christmas pageant held at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, attended mostly by San Francisco's elite, which certainly didn't include me. Ansel Adams had been essentially in charge of that event since 1929 and I believe we attended the last "Adams Bracebridge." This involved a lot of work, as anyone who has attended the dinner will know, and goes to Mike's point about Adams working hard. I suspect Adams did this largely without compensation for forty plus years.

As an aside, after dinner my wife insisted on taking our lovely program up to the front of the hall to get Adams to sign it. I objected that we shouldn't bother this important and famous person, still a hero of mine to this day. But she went anyway and now of course I have that signed program, replete with a couple of Adams photographs, on a table in our living room.


I bought a spot meter, in fact still have two; one works.

Eventually I ran out of energy, but I will never give up my spot meter(s).

For many years while I was a newspaper photographer in the Chicago are I'd enter the state competitions for our press photography group. And every year, one person won top awards in category after category. Over the years of watching and admiring I also got a feel for how he worked, and how much he worked. I love being a photographer, but working as much and as hard as he did, I think still does, would break me. And that's okay. He does great work, and I'm happy to admire it. I'm going to focus on continuing to improve my work within the bounds of what I have to give, what I'm willing to give.

I have read a lot about and by Adams. But this is the first time I heard that he may have been a philanderer. LOL.
I always thought he was prudish, just remember his crusade against William Mortensen.

Fun fact: Fashion photographer Arthur Elgort named his son after Ansel. He starred in the recent West Side Story as Tony.

That is all.


40 years ago, eh? Me too. Built my darkroom in the basement, tried and tried to "be" Ansel, finally threw in the towel. I'm just not anywhere near that good.

I love the digital darkroom!

Btw - I've noticed a ramping up of energy in your posts. That oxygen stuff does wonders, doesn't it?

[I feel *much* better.... --Mike]

I somehow managed to last 41 years as a newspaper photographer. I would say that there were lots of better photographers out there, my work was pretty average but I was consistent with the work that I presented to my editors on a daily basis, so in that regard, I worked very hard.

It's worth remembering that Adams did not begin to make serious income from his prints until he was past what we now call "retirement age".
Until quite late in his life he was a working commercial photographer; you can see some of those little-known images in the early editions of his technical manuals.
So yes, he worked harder than any of us for a very long time, and achieved a great deal from it. Including becoming a legend- which tends to obscure his very real achievements (that's a different topic though).
If you're interested, I can recommend "Ansel Adams; The Making of a Photographer" by Dr. Rebecca Senf, of the Center for Creative Photography. Unlike most artists' biographies, she gets down and dirty and counts the money- which will go some way to explaining why he worked so hard.
I was lucky to spend twenty-five years of my professional career as an industrial photographer at a major corporation; let me tell you, free-lancing is hard work even if you love it.

I asked Bing Chat if Thomas Edison was a hard worker ...

Thomas Edison was known for his work ethic and dedication to his work. He was a workaholic, often working long hours and managing multiple projects simultaneously. In fact, he would wake up as early as 4 am and retire late at night, sometimes even skipping meals and sleeping. Edison was a busy multitasker, responsible for switching his attention from one task to another often several times during the day

I would add, "Necessary but not Sufficient."

Mike - I think your comment about not judging Adams original prints by "The Museum Set," may be an overgeneralization. The first time I saw an original Adams print was at the Met in NYC. Most of the Adams prints that are displayed at the Met were printed in 1974, ten years before his death. While Adams did change the way he printed his images over time, often tending to the more dramatic, to my knowledge those Met prints do not reflect declining eyesight.

Viewing those prints then opened my eyes to what was possible. While I grew up viewing books by Adams, Weston, Stieglitz, Strand, and so forth, once I saw the mastery of Adams original prints they left no doubt about the beauty that could be extracted from a black and white negative. Per your post, though, it hadn't yet dawned on me just how much work that entailed.

[The Museum Set project was initiated in 1978, if memory serves, and concluded at some point before his death in 1984. So c. 1974 prints don't fall into that range. John Sexton was his assistant in that time period, and has recounted some of Ansel's frustrations with the printings. I know he blamed some of the problems with available papers, and he wasn't the only one who was dissatisfied with the quality of papers in that window of time.

"Eyesight problems" is just speculation. I have no idea if eyesight played any part of it, although it seems logical that it might have. I probably shouldn't have written that. It would not have gotten past a New Yorker fact checker, at any rate, not without factual corroboration of some sort. --Mike]

Two observations: Don't know if that portrait is of any particular portrait style, all I do know is that I certainly would not want to be memorialized in like manner!

If anyone wants to see the quality possible in a B&W analog print, experience Wynn Bullock's Navigation Without Numbers- and yes, to experience it, you must view it in person.

I'm a little bothered by the wide reference to "St. Ansel". I think it's contrary to his self-presentation, contrary to his real desserts and accomplishments, and just generally kind of nasty.

He was certainly a huge influence on me. I learned tremendous amounts from his Basic Photo series (on the craft side), and tremendous amounts more from Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs including a lot on the artistic side, and I still love his work.

What I'm interested in doing isn't much related to what he was interested in doing (which is convenient, since if I wanted to do it I'd have to do it better!), but they're plenty close enough I can learn from him.

There are certainly folks who assiduously pursue their passions, putting in staggering hours with little regard for free time. But there is another form of ‘hard work’ that is often overshadowed by capitalism’s mythical reward system, whereby success might require dogged effort, but such effort does not guarantee success.

And this type of underappreciated and unrewarded ‘hard work’ entails doing a job that destroys your soul, inspires suicidal tendencies, pays little, obliterates any claim that capitalism and freedom are indivisible, and subjects you to a sociopathic boss (typical management). This type of hard work is a job that one would leave within a fraction of a second after winning the lottery. And no, just getting another job is often not feasible…if it were, after all, our wages would be higher and our treatment significantly more humane.

Keeping the Faith-

Those interested in Ansel Adams might like to listen to a talk given
by Andrea Stillman. She was a former assistant to Ansel.
It's called, "Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man".

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007