Ansel Adams.

Conversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 online

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their action. We did a lot of things by telephone in the early
days. We'd call up and say, "What do you think?" and if there 'd
be an obvious majority, we'd go ahead. Now, that's not entirely
legal! In the Friends of Photography, we must address every


Adams: director by mail and get a letter back from all, to make an action
binding. If it's a simple single proposition ("Should we raise the
salary of the janitor?"), if we get a majority of letters back saying
saying, "Yes, we should do that," then we can say that's as effective
as a meeting. But the Sierra Club's never been able to do that
legally. They haven't done it at all lately, but when the club was
small, they would just take a consensus over the telephone. It was
perfectly good. You know, they'd call me up and they'd say, "Such
and such a thing has come up what do you think about it?"

"I'm all for it."

"We'll put you down 'pro'." And if they got a majority of
pros, they felt safe to take the action.

Teiser: So it was still really a small community that was acting

Adams: We were all considered gentlemen, and no political shenanigans were
going on.

Teiser: Brower had been on that board just before the war for one term, I
think. So he knew how that worked.

Adams: Well, the board was like no other board that I've ever heard or

known of. Leopold* used to get so absolutely furious (I would too)
that instead of sending out all the agenda data in advance so the
board members could think about it, we'd just start out from
scratch and spend hours nit-picking. People would come from the
East and the Midwest and the South and the North, and spend two
hours on a little point that the assistant director should be able
to handle with prior dispatch.

Teiser: Has that been changed in recent years?

Adams: Not too much. They spent five hours trying to select the president
this last time. Larry Moss was politicizing trying to be
president and Judge [Raymond] Sherwin was being supported as
incumbent. He's a very fine gentleman and I think he didn't speak
up as he should have in his own behalf. But they spent all these
hours of wasted time. Finally he got in by two votes. Well, Larry
Moss is going to be president next year. Maybe he wants to get
Brower back. If that happens, I'll resign from the Club. Then
it's I no longer want anything to do with it. It'll become kind
of a political thing like the Democratic National Convention or
the Republican. [Laughs]

*A. Starker Leopold.


Leadership Conflicts

Teiser: When Brower was going well, so far as everyone knew, in the fifties
and early sixties

Adams: He was going e'xtremely well. And that's the tragedy. He was an
extremely capable, intelligent and forceful person. And I
recommended him.

Recently I put up a terrible fight that he shouldn't be
honorary vice-president of an organization he probably wrecked. And
I would not receive my honorary vice-presidency if he got his.* I
just couldn't see it. But I still proposed him for the John Muir
Award, which is an objective appreciation of work in conservation.
Some people can't see that makes any sense. But one is an objective
thing for what he did, which was tremendous. And the other relates
to the organization, and I just couldn't agree to it.

Teiser: In about '65, I think it was, Joel Hildebrand was going to resign as
honorary vice-president. And Alexander Hildebrand and Richard
Leonard offered to resign from the board because they thought the
finances were

Adams: That was it the finances were getting very bad. You see, at the
board meetings we have often what you call a caucus, which is a
meeting which has no power and is off the record. In other words,
it's just people getting together and making decisions to avoid
later argument of the board. We find out, how are we going to vote
on this? Let's get the arguments thrashed out now. And so we'd
fight it all out and find that it would be five to seven, or eight
to four, etc. So when it comes up before the regular board, people
vote accordingly. We've already discussed it.

Well, Leonard told us about the finances and the certain
things that had been done like putting up restricted funds as
collateral, which is not legal. And that every director, at that
time, was responsible for about $60,000 in cash, as a trustee of a
public fund. Well, I've heard lawyers talk back and forth and say
it's not true; but Leonard declares that in a public trust like the
Sierra Club, which has taken public monies, the directors are, in
effect, trustees and are personally responsible.

Teiser: Alexander Hildebrand was offering to resign from the board, and

Joel Hildebrand was offering to resign as an honorary vice-president.

Adams: Yes. Well, they just didn't like the ethics involved, which was
very shady in many cases. It was a real fracas! I don't really
blame them. The club had meant something to them, and now it was

*Ansel Adams refused the honorary vice-presidency in 1971 and 1974,
accepted it in 1978. David Brower was elected honorary vice-
president in 1971.


Adams: getting to be a kind of problem, you know, financially and otherwise,
and they didn't want their names on it. They wanted me to get off,
and I didn't see that I should. I said, "Well, somebody has to stay
on the board."

Well, then it came out that, seeing as I had gone on the record
at the meetings for three years in opposition to the fiscal policy,
in case the club did collapse I would be free of obligation I and
a few others because we had opposed this policy. Which meant that
the ones who had favored the policy would have that much more
obligation. [Laughter] We're talking about $100,000 apiece there;
it was really pretty serious.

It got to a point where it might be going to the attorney
general. In fact, I was in favor of cleaning it off. Couldn't do
anything with Brower. The president was too weak. He wouldn't
control him. Wayburn said, "If I oppose Brower, why, the member
ship will rise up and put me out of office." I said, "Well, look,
you've got to do your duty, and if that's what the membership wants,
that's not your problem." I said, "I'd be very glad to be thrown
out of office if I am standing up for a principle." It's a strong
ethical point. And a whole year went by when Brower just went
berserk, and Wayburn finally had to make some directives. It
wasn't the opposition he expected at all only about 10 percent.

Teiser: That was the directive to take fiscal responsibility away from

Adams: Yes. That was first taken away, and then he was just discharged.
It should have been done two or three years earlier. Firm action
might have helped, but nobody did anything.

You have the term "ostensible agent," which is a very tricky
and very involved thing. Suppose that you have an organization and
I'm working for you, and I have an executive position in it, and I
go out and spend money and buy and sell, and it goes on for
several years, and there's no opposition. I'm not restrained in
any way. It's assumed that I represent you. Therefore, anything
I do, you are responsible for. Leonard simply said, "Well, on the
principle of 'ostensible agent' the club is responsible. Let's
face it." That was the thing that was very nerve-wracking, because
we were then nearly $400,000 in debt, which is a lot of money,
especially when some of the collateral for it shouldn't be applied.
It was a pretty serious business. It's a very complex thing.

Brower has great charisma, and he has an army of devotees who
think he's just the second coming. Bill Turnage was up north
recently trying to talk to somebody up there and explain the
history, and the man said, "You're just crazy. You're influenced


Adams: by Adams. You work for Adams, and Adams is absolutely wrong."

Turnage said, "I have read into this in great detail and from many,
many sources, and my opinion is not based on Adams's opinion."

Teiser: Do young people who are emotionally involved with ecology, do they
admire Brower?

\dams: A lot of them, yes. A lot of them just go to the spectacular
and the Christ, the Messiah element. And the Messiah involves
doing away with all worldly things, so then money means nothing.
Material things mean nothing. Thoreau was a perfect example,
although he was far more practical-minded than a lot of people care
to imagine. He had a hostile, paranoid situation, and he withdrew
from the world; he became a hermit. But he went back to Boston to
get food every so often and tend to his affairs. I'd never trust
him around the corner.'

I think Muir was very naive. But as somebody pointed out,
Muir married a quite well-to-do woman, and could run a nice farm
and do what he wanted to do. George Marshall is another example of
somebody who's just marvelous and lives in a world of abstract
theory, and he can afford to. But the nitty-gritty of it is, if
you're going to do this, it is going to cost so much money, and
where does the money come from? The thing that gets me absolutely
in a state of panic is that this Christo gets $700,000 to put that
curtain up in Rifle Gap. Why don't the conservationists start
yacking when he covers the rocks, takes half a mile of seacoast
rocks and covers them with a plastic, and gets hundreds of thousands
of dollars to do it?

Teiser: Brower himself, on the other hand, I gather, led quite an ascetic

Adams: His own personal life family was all right. But he certainly

would fly first class, build up bills at restaurants. He took two
of his staff first-class to the Frankfurt Book Fair. He was running
up a $700-a-month bill at the Alley, the little local restaurant.
Anybody comes to town, he'd take the whole staff out to lunch, put
it on the chit. Dick Leonard was acting treasurer and began to see
these things come in. Oh yes, then he had a contingency fund, which
was raised to $20,000 shouldn't have been that much. It was
$12,000, then went to $15,000. I remember then it went on to
$20,000. He just took $5000 of that and founded the John Muir
Institute, of which he became president which was an awful thing
to do.

Teiser: That's still in existence. Is that still his ?


Adams: Oh yes. That's still his baby. The Friends of the Earth has gone

in the red, but the John Muir Institute is apparently the nest. But
that was founded, apparently, with Sierra Club money. So you see,
the whole thing is very questionable

Teiser: You said, and other people said too, that Brower alienated people
who could be helpful to the club

Adams: That was the greatest loss we had.

Teiser: If he alienated those people, whom did he entertain?

Adams: He entertained activist conservationists, individuals who were on
his side. But the people that you have to work with, like the
lumber people and the power people and the government, and so on
the National Parks and Wilderness [Society] people he alienated
those; they wouldn't talk with him or the Sierra Club. We were
completely out of communication for quite a few years. They simply
wouldn't talk to us with that man Brower at the helm; they didn't
want to be insulted.

Teiser: He was personally insulting?

Adams: Oh, he was terrible. He'd make accusations that were just
absolutely uncalled for.

Teiser: How did it happen, do you think, that he changed so?

Adams: Well, he got bit with the power bug. Somebody probably instructed
him in activist method which is a very common method. It's the
method of dictators, the method of people like Nader and Carry
Nation and maybe William Jennings Bryan. They're just absolutely
ruthless. The end justifies the means, put it that way. You don't
get anywhere by being polite, says Brower, so you just go out and
raise hell. Well, that isn't exactly true. It might be super
ficially true, you see. You might cow people into certain responses,
but it doesn't

Teiser: Who in the club was for him?

Adams: The majority of the board were for him for several years. The man
from the Northwest chapter. There was Larry Moss. Martin Litton
was one of the most dynamite characters. He's absolutely well, I
don't want to be libelous but he's one of the most irrational
people I know of. And Will Siri would vacillate, one side to the
other, which I never could quite understand. Wayburn would vacillate
one side to the other politically involved. I'm just trying to
think of these other people. Well, there was a majority. There was
eight people, always, that Brower could count on, and that's a
majority if you have fifteen directors. Of course, the point was
that some of the ideas were terribly good.


Adams: August Fruge was always much on our side. I can think of our side
as being August Frugl and Dick Leonard, Lewis Clark Lewis Clark
took a year or so to come around of course myself; I think the
treasurer was pretty much. But the thing that bothered me was
they weren't quite definite, which meant they really didn't know
all the things. I'll have to get the board of directors list to be
able to pinpoint them. Do you have the list here?

Teiser: The last one I have here is '63.

Adams: Well, there's lots of names on there I can

Teiser: [Reading] Edgar Wayburn, Nathan Clark, Charlotte Mauk, Clifford V.
Heimbucher, George Marshall

Adams: Marshall vacillated, although he was finally very much against.
Mauk was always torn because she always admired Dave as an
individual that climbed, and it was very hard for her to realize
the truth. You know, you have people that are old, old friends.
Nicholas Clinch was somebody that had to finally agree. He was
just stretching it, trying to say, "Well, the man you can control
him. He's all right." Then when he saw the figures he finally
said, "I can't I have to vote against him."

Who else do you have there?
Teiser: Pauline Dyer. This is '62.

Adams: Dyer was very much pro-Brower for quite a while. I don't know
whether she's ever changed.

Teiser: Jules Eichorn was on the board in '62.

Adams: Yes. Well, Jules Eichorn was involved for quite a while on a
matter of principle. Then he shifted.

Teiser: Leonard. Bestor Robinson

Adams: Bestor Robinson was absolutely on our side all the time.

Teiser: R. Clifford Youngquist.

Adams: Youngquist was all for Brower, as I remember.

Teiser: Randall Dickey.

Adams: Randall Dickey was first for him, and then I think realized what we
were up against, and he was very valuable in the CMC procedures.


Teiser: Harold E. Crowe.

Adams: Crowe always was on our side.

Teiser: And Harold C. Bradley?

Adams: Bradley was on our side.

Teiser: Phil S. Bernays was

Adams: Bernays was on our side.

Teiser: Francis Farquhar. Where did he stand?

Adams: Oh, he was always on our side. Colby just said, "Brower is going
to wreck the club" and so did Farquhar and Heimbucher.* They both
had analytic minds and they could see the direction in which it was

Well, just to give you an idea, he put out a color flyer (what
we call a "flyer" in printing, you know it's an advertisement that
goes to book dealers), he put out one of several pages, 250,000
printed, and it cost about $48,000, but it came out after the
bookselling period. You know, books are sold to dealers primarily
in July and August, and this came out in September. Spending money
like that $40,000, $50,000 that kind of stuffl

Publication Problems

Adams: But one of the techniques that Brower would have, was applied when

he put through the Galapagos book [The Flow of Wildness] with Porter
I don't know how Porter feels now. I think he must be pretty much
ashamed of supporting Brower so strongly. But he's off the board

Brower wanted to do the Galapagos, and the publication committee
said it was outside our field, too specific. They turned it down
two or three times. And then it was taken to the executive committee
and they turned it down. Finally Brower went to the board of
directors, reporting on what he was doing, and so on, and said, "The
Galapagos book is now underway." And they said, "Well, Dave, that's
never been approved." "Oh," he said, "I thought it had been," which
is an absolutely bald-faced lie. All the records showed there was
no possible approval.

*Clifford V. Heimbucher.


Adams :


. - ams :

"Well," he said, "I don't know what we're going to do. The plates
are made." And that was the time when we should have said, "We are
sorry, David; we think that's your responsibility." And then Dave's
supporters said, "Oh no, no, no. The club is responsible." That's
the time we unfortunately didn't crack down. We should have cracked
down terribly hard and just said, "All right, no matter how many
thousands, it's not authorized, so it's your responsibility." But
then came the "ostensible agency" fact; he ordered them and there's
nothing we can do about it. So after $40,000 or $50,000 have been
committed, we weaken, and he brings out a two-volume book a complete
flop and a terribly expensive thing. But that was his technique.
He'd say, "Oh, I didn't know. I thought that was approved." In the
meantime, he's had the work done.

Was there one point at which you started doubting all this, or did
it just gradually come over you?

No, I think he came down here to Carmel one day, and I told him
that I thought the way he was doing things, he was headed for a fall.
And the trouble we had with the Glacier Bay man Dave Bohn
we'd had a standard meeting of the board up at Tappaan Lodge, and
Dave Bohn had brought his lawyer in and threatened a suit of
$100,000 unless the agreement was followed through. He had a
contract [for the book GlacierBay ] ; he laid it on the table.

directors were aghast. He had all the records,
contract with Dave Bohn without delay.

So we fixed up the

Then it seemed that a family that lived in England and Arizona
(we don't knc . yet what they're citizens of they must be citizens
of America now) gave the Sierra Club $80,000, I believe. (Mind you,
all these figures are subject to exact analysis. It might have been
$78,000 or $82,000. Say $80,000.) They gave it to Dave in London.
Well, he put it in the bank. It never went through the club
treasury! We don't know yet what the tax situation was. There's
still a potential crackdown who gave who to what, and whose was it?
Who received it? Dave received it in the name of the club and put it
in the bank. But Dave had previously gone to London and set up a
London office, and the directors knew nothing about it until we
suddenly found out that we had a London office!

I think it was Dick [Leonard] who called me up and said, "Do
you know we're in London now?" I said, "What do you mean?" "Well,
I've just been informed we have a London office with a staff." I
said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, Dave decided that was

Teiser: What had Brower come down here to talk to you about?

Adams: Oh, that was I think in relation to the Dave Bohn book. I think that
was it. It was a bit vague.


Adams: But then this English thing went on, and then the interesting thing
was that Dave published several books in the name of the club, using
this money, which had never gone through the club treasury, you see.
He never embezzled anything for himself.

Teiser: Was the check made out to him?

Adams: The check was made out to the Sierra Club, and he simply endorsed
it "Dave Brower, executive director" and put it in the bank.

Teiser: Whose account?

Adams: Barclay's in London.

Teiser: But I mean, what account?

Adams: A special account; just a Sierra Club account.

Then he got these new books underway. And we said, "Well,
what's going on? What's all this funny business? We'll have to
straighten this out. What are you doing with the money?" "Well,
we're publishing books." "What books?" Well, one [of the books]
we knew about; the other one we didn't know about. 1 think it was
Lewis Clark who said, "Dave, this is worrisome. We've got the
contracts, I hope." Dave said, "No." "Well, what document have you
got?" He said, "Oh, I've got plenty that will document it."

He had only a Xerox copy of the first page of the estimate!
That's all he had to justify all this stuff. In the meantime, they
had received a letter from a friend in London who had understood
that a certain printing house was going to do these books. The
friend said, "Look out for them. They're tricky as they come." So
here we were with the idea of spending money which we didn't have
in our name, by our ostensible agent, without any knowledge of tax
situations, and no firm contract. There's been no trouble over it
yet, but it was a highly irregular procedure. That's the kind of
thing we had to contend with.

Teiser: Of course, his background was in publishing, so I guess he saw

publishing ventures as an important activity, but didn't he also
take considerable part in conservation projects?

Adams: Oh yes. He involved the club in many things without authorization.
Some of them very good, some of them very questionable.


Conservation Conferences

Teiser: I think there was a whole series of biennial meetings on
conservation at the

Adams: The Wilderness Conference I think that that was suggested to Brower
by the board, but was formulated pretty much by Peggy Wayburn. That
was a very fine concept, and I think it's been as successful as
anything of that kind can be. You wonder what happens. People come;
they all agree. I suppose it's like a medical convention, but at a
medical convention people learn a lot about new techniques and
everything. I suppose the Wilderness Conference did give construc
tive reports, but I attended two and they were the dullest things
I've ever been to in my life. [Laughter] Stuart Udall gave a pretty
good talk at one. At the last one they had, I think Rogers Morton
spoke, which was a catastrophe because he wasn't prepared for it.

Teiser: So you don't feel those were very valuable activities?

Adams: I don't know! The exhibits were terrible. Such meetings are

composed of 90 percent sympathetic people talking to themselves.

Teiser: I think Norman Livermore suggested the first one in 1949, called the
"High Sierra Wilderness."

Adams: Well, that's perfectly possible. But that was not that related to
High Sierra wilderness, which was a specific thing for the Sierra.
But the Wilderness Conferences were nation-wide, even world-wide.

Teiser: In '35 you had sponsored a

Adams: Oh, we had a little thing called the "Wildflower Festival" up
in Yosemite, which was on conservation. And it was called the
"Wildflower Festival" because it was the time of year when all
the flowers were out. We had a very good crowd.

Teiser: Did you talk about conservation?

Adams: Yes, whole new ideas of conservation. Virginia must have the
proceedings somewhere. Pearl Chase of Santa Barbara was very
enthusiastic about it. We had quite a number of people attend.

Teiser: But it must have been one of the first things of its kind

Adams: I think it was one of the first things in the West of its kind, yes.
We took people on tours, and we had botanists and foresters talk,
helping to wake people up to the Sierra Club principles of thinking
in those days.


Adams: Pearl Chase is a dynamo. She is an absolute vocal firebrand. I've
never known anybody who could bring forth more names, more facts,
more dates, and with a terrific amount of energy. Just unbelievable.

Mrs. [Emily] Pope is somebody of that type the Small Wilderness
Group lady. It's just like winding up an electric fan. She gets
things done. She saved the fine oak grove near San Luis Obispo. I
haven't heard from her recently. Maybe she's exhausted. But she
really accomplished a lot.

Teiser: Militant women do get things done.

Adams: Yes. They go right in and sit down opposite a businessman's desk

and say, "We want this." You know, it's pretty straightforward. I
think Justin Dart gave some money for that; this beautiful oak grove
was going to be a trailer park. She was able to save it.

Gifted People

Adams: It's very important never to underestimate what Brower has

accomplished as a conservationist. When all the brouhaha is over
and history comes to the fore, ten or twenty years from now, and
the financial situations are forgotten and all these other things,
his actual accomplishments will loom very large. And that would be
good. I'm not criticizing that. I'm criticizing the ethical,
moral, and practical procedures in relation to the Sierra Club.

Teiser: Too bad he couldn't have gone along on an even keel, isn't it?

Adams: Well, maybe people like that can't. We have the same in some
people in the sciences. Look at Linus Pauling. Is he twice a

Online LibraryAnsel AdamsConversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 → online text (page 68 of 76)