Ansel Adams.

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

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Nobel Prize winner? He certainly must know scientific procedures,
and yet he goes out and talks about vitamin C as if he's absolutely
gassed. The doctors are uncertain because there's no available
tests as to what the side effects would be. But it's the great
Linus Pauling, and he espouses causes like Russell* did. Some of
them were absolutely irrational and had nothing to do with his
extreme rationality in his field.

I know Dr. Land talks about wonderful gifted people that are
the absolute apex in their own field and just plain damn fools when
they get into other fields. Why don't they know enough about
themselves to know they can't do that?

[Calls across the room to the Newhalls and Helen LeConte] How you
all doing over there?

*Bertrand Russell.


Voices: Just fine. Just starting. We've been looking at an early Adams

album [of photographs of a mountain trip with the LeConte family],

Adams: Oh, my gosh. It's probably faded. [Laughter]

I think I'd like to say something about Cedric Wright again.
We didn't quite complete that. Cedric never gave money to anything.
Cedric was extremely tight financially. 'Now, maybe he was so fixed
with trust funds that he couldn't, but he was really penny-pinching
when it comes to cash, but extremely generous in time, pictures, and
effort. And his book, which I got through the club with considerable
opposition the little volume, Words of the Earth has been quite
successful. It still sells. Apparently it's sort of a handbook to
a certain type of what we call "flower children" type. The more
tranquil, philosophic young people just love that book and its
rather naive writing. But the This is the American Earth still is
the one that carries a real impact.

Teiser: And it's been said to be more important than any other single book
in conservation I've heard people say that.

Adams: Well, it started the series. Now we're trying to think about doing
another edition, which is awfully complex. You don't rewrite a bible
after it's done. The original stands and it may have its faults.
It has some superficial assumptions in it, but the important thing
to me about it is, it's truly poetic. And most conservation
material is anything but poetic; it's the driest, dustiest,
dismalest collection of prose writings you can possibly imagine.
Just read reports I I'm not talking about Muir and Thoreau, although
I don't think they were true poets. I think Wordsworth had it all
over them. But the average conservation text of today it's just
terribly hard to get through it. It's like a tract or a legal
statement. And how they ever expect to arouse public interest and
excitement with that particular style is beyond me.

But what Nancy did in This is the American Earth is really a
poem. Beaumont calls it a synergistic relationship; I call it
synesthetic the relationship between words and pictures, in which
the pictures do not illustrate the text, and the text does not
describe the pictures; it simply goes together. And she did the same
in Time in New England with Paul Strand. It's an approach we need
very much, because it can be accurate and at the same time emotionally

[End Tape 26, Side 2]


Conflicts, Continued
[Begin Tape 27, Side 1]



Adams :
Adams :


Adams :

Do you remember sometime in the sixties Fruge made a study of the
editorial activities of the club

Yes, he did. And I recall he came strongly out against us publishing,
because he could not see any economic justification, and he said that
that was not our field, but that we could initiate ideas, texts,
pictures put things together. But we really should allow the
publishing to be done by a designated publishing house who had the
experience and "machinery." Because we didn't have the "machinery."
What I mean by "machinery" is the fact that any good-sized
publishing house has several hundred items and the whole business of
production, publicity and sales at their command.

Did he suggest any specific publishing house?

No, I don't think so.

Was there any movement to have that done then?

Well, I suggested the University of California Press, but they can't
do certain things. There's always that bugaboo of competition between
them and commercial publishers. They're supposed to be limited to a
specific field. He didn't feel that the University Press had the
machinery to do what we wanted to do. Paul Brooks of Houghton-Miff lin
was a vacillator between Brower between the ideal and the practical.
They, Houghton-Miff lin, never wanted to get burned by the books. He
kept out of it. Several people wanted to publish, but their
standards weren't good. I can't remember all the history of it.
But Fruge was always very rational.

Oh, and another director who was all for Brower in the beginning
and for whom it was very painful to have to come to a negative
conclusion was Phil Berry. They were climbing companions, and it was
all a very difficult personal thing.

Who are the ones left now in the group?
group that's for him?

You say there still is a

Oh, I would say a good part of the board is still I think both women
on the board, and [Martin] Litton. He so dominated the Atlantic
chapter that the people there still hang out for him. I don't really
know. I think that, being out of it as I have been, I shouldn't pass
judgment on it ethically and because I really don't know. I'm just
an ordinary member now. I may not be even that long, if things


Teiser: Would it be conceivable that they would bring Brower back into the

Adams: Yes, very conceivable. It's also conceivable the club would go into
total bankruptcy, which then means it would be taken over by the
attorney general of the state.

Teiser: At one time I think you suggested that perhaps members of the Sierra
Club who objected to Brower should resign and either affiliate
themselves with another organization or create a new one.

Adams: Yes, I said that if the club had no future, then it was necessary for
the people who believed in what we were doing to get together. But
it was not a very practical thing because forming an organization of
that kind and doing anything fresh requires a great deal of money.

Teiser: I think there was some suggestion of joining the Wilderness Society.

Adams: I didn't do that. I think it was a matter of diverting funds. How
much funds have you got? How much money and energy and time can you
spend? Now, if you want to spend it constructively I did everything
I could in relation to the club, and now I just can't do it. One can
do just so much!

Teiser: Was the Concerned Members for Conservation started first, or was the

Committee for an Active, Bold, Constructive Sierra Club started first?

Adams: The ABC was the Brower one.
Teiser: Which came first?

Adams: I think the Brower came first, knowing that opposition was brewing.
Dick Leonard can give you the basics on that. But, you see, Brower
could use club funds did use club funds to propagandize this

Teiser: Oh, he did!

Adams: Yes. And we couldn't so we had to raise funds; we had to raise at
least $12,000 to reach all the members. Brower would not allow any
of the dissertations or discussions printed in the Argonaut in the
East. He got the New York Times over to his side. Dave's a most
compelling person. He can tell you that two and two is five. If you
don't watch out, you may believe it! So this is a rankling thing
with me still, that the club funds were spent in this way. There's
some statement they weren't, but I think the books show otherwise.

Teiser: The CMC was advocating election to the board of you and Clinch and

Fruge and Maynard Munger, Jr., and Raymond Sherwin and Wayburn. Does
that sound right?


Adams: Yes. Wayburn was my protest candidate; I didn't really trust his

point of view on it. Hunger switched over completely, but lost out
on the board in the last election. [Raymond J.] Sherwin is still
president and is, I think, quite rational about things.

Teiser: Mr. Leonard gave us these Xeroxes when we were talking to him. He
pulled cards out and sent them out to be Xeroxed. They're the
results of the board elections for '67, '68, up to '72.

Adams: [Reading the Xerox of the 1972 election] [William] Futrell is the
one that took my place when I resigned, but he apparently has gone
back to Brower. [Paul] Swatek I don't know. Fruge is in, and I
don't know [John] Ricker. Hunger's out. [Edwin] Royce, [Kent] Gill,
Matthews and [Anne] Van Tyne are out. Van Tyne was a very active and
very good lady down in the Santa Barbara area, and yet she lost

[Reading the Xerox of the 1968 election] Let's see, Siri.

[Eliot] Porter was all Brower, [Laurence I.] Moss was Brower,

[Phillip] Berry was and then changed. [A. Starker] Leopold was and
then changed. [Charlotte] Mauk wasn't she didn't run. [David] Sive
was very much Brower he was the East. [Sanford] Tepfer was Brower.
Nathan Clark was no [against Brower], [Raymond J.] Sherwin was no,

[George] Marshall I think was no, [Philip] Hyde was for Brower.

[James P.] Gilligan I don't know. But Hyde didn't get on.

And '66 [Frederick] Eissler was very much a Brower man, and
[John B. ] Oakes.

Then you come to '71. [Alfred S.] Forsyth was Brower; Berry,
no; Siri vacillating; Moss for Brower; [Claire] Dedrick I think for
Brower; and [June] Viavant I think for Brower. In 1970, [Richard C.]
Sill was very much against Brower, but rather difficult in getting a
decision out of him; Brooks would go with Brower; [Charles] Huestis
I think was against Brower; Litton was very much on Brower's side;
[Patrick] Goldsworthy was for Brower but lost.

In '69, Wayburn was Brower; Muncheimer* I think was for Brower
but withdrew; Brower didn't make it. Sive was Brower; Eissler was
Brower; [George] Alderson was Brower.

It still is a pretty close business. Now, of course, Leonard
goes off this year. I would have gone off this year, just by the
rotation law.

Teiser: That means that he cannot go back on again?
Adams: He can, after a year, I think.

*Kurt H. Muncheimer.


Teiser: When Brower lost the election in 1969, did that indicate then a very
definite split between the directors and the membership?

Adams: No. See, you can go on the board with a petition. You have to get
quite a number now, but if you get those names, you can go on, and
he just didn't make it. He was petitioned all right.

Teiser: But the board didn't take it as any indication that the membership
and board were basically out of joint?

Adams: You see, the nominating committee was named by Brower, and they threw
me off. They called me in Cambridge and said, "I just hate to tell
you this, but the nominating committee put all of the older members
together, and they realized well, it's nothing personal, but we need
new people, and we did not renominate you." I said, "That's fine,
that's the democratic process." Well, BANG somebody started to put
my name on a petition, and I came in with I don't know how many
thousand votes. And of course Brower could do the same thing. I was
perfectly happy to get off.

Teiser: Yes, Leonard said you'd been trying to resign for years, and he'd
been urging you to stay on the board.

Adams: Well, I didn't feel I was very useful.

Teiser: Was that after the Brower difficulties began, or was that even before?

Adams: Well, before that. But when Brower was finally canned, I figured,
"Well, I've done my part. I'd like to resign." Leonard and others
said, "No, you can't do that, because the Brower forces are too

Teiser: You said something the other day, off the tape, about once being in
Cambridge and addressing a chapter meeting. Was this at this same

Adams: Well, it was during the Brower regime. The New England chapter
wanted me to express my opinions on the club, and I primarily
expressed the opinion that the chapters should really run the club.
But I found very considerable opposition. In fact, at least a third
were rather violent. As far as they were concerned, I was just an
old fossil; didn't know what it was all about.

Teiser: Are you considered a reactionary by some?

Adams: Oh yes. Sure. [Laughs] Very much. Doesn't bother me, because I
don't think I am. All of this is a relative matter, you know. I
think my record is reasonably clear. I might have done crazy things;
I don't think I did any definitely bad things. I know I must have
made bad judgments sometimes.


Preserving Wilderness Through Legislation

Teiser: In 1963, you were given the Muir award. Was that for specific things?

Adams: Just general conservation. That's quite an honor, and I retain it
because it was given at a time when it meant something. I wouldn't
accept it now from the club.

Teiser: In the meanwhile, while all this was going on I guess this was after
the Wilderness Act was passed, wasn't it? Was the club pretty united
behind the Wilderness Act?

Adams: Oh yes. We worked very hard for that; that's probably one of the
strongest projects we have on hand.

Teiser: Were you satisfied with it?

Adams: Yes, except that again we couldn't talk directly, so we had to fight
through Congress. The Forest Service people would not talk to us
because of Brower. We could have accomplished a great deal more if
we'd been able to be in direct contact.

Teiser: Is that right? There were some provisions in it that I think were
not entirely reassuring.

Adams: Oh no, it was diluted and weakened. We had scrapped to get provisions
back that were vital. But, on the whole, I think we got a pretty good

Teiser: Then during this same period (I don't know how everything was going
on at once the publishing programs and the campaigns) the Northern
Cascades National Park was being fought for

Adams: That was important, and that involved the Forest Service, and it
involved the Kennecott mine. The beautiful view of Glacier Peak,
which is the trademark of the Northern Cascades, with this big lake
in front. (I don't remember the name of the lake.) The Kennecott
people are planning a copper mine situated just over the brink of
this lake, placed on a lower plateau. And we fought very hard against
that. I don't know what's happened to it. I don't know whether they
have withdrawn temporarily. The main problem was the Forest Service
cutting. Because, as I understand, the Forest Service would leave a
little canyon wild but then cut the slopes around it. So many of the
canyons and gorges of the Cascades that do have very fine timber
could be simply ruined by even moderate cutting above. So the
problem was how to establish an adequate national park.


Adams: You remember that the Kings Canyon park was developed with an

"enclave" as it's called reserving the whole floor of the Kings
Canyon for a dam, from Cedar Grove on up, and I think Tehipite
Canyon too. The only way we could get the park was to leave these
areas out. Now, whether that's been resolved or not, I don't know.
But we never could have gotten the Kings Canyon Park through if it
hadn't been for this concession to [the Bureau of] Reclamation.

You see, Reclamation is under the Department of the Interior,
just like the National Park Service. So you've got an internal
squabble there that is really almost unbelievable forces pulling
against each other in the same department. If it were the Forest
Service, you could understand, but when it becomes an intra-bureau
situation, then you're in trouble.

[End Tape 27, Side 1]

[Interview XXIV (Sierra Club Interview V) 8 September 1972]
[Begin Tape 28, Side 1] [During this interview, Nancy Newhall was
going over photographs in a nearby area. ]

Teiser: Last time I lost a piece of the recording tape. We were talking
about the Grand Canyon campaign. It seemed to be such a crucial
kind of thing in various ways. You were all for trying to save it
in some ways, I believe you said. What ways?

Adams: Well, it's very, very complicated because there were several factors.
I'm not too clear about many of them. There was a series of dams to
be built in the Grand Canyon in the lower area and the water would
back up into the Grand Canyon proper. I remember us making a
statement one time that "you wouldn't flood the Sistine Chapel so
you could see the ceiling frescoes from a boat." [Laughter] And of
course that happened to be a very gross exaggeration in relation to
the Grand Canyon, because it would be very hard to see the water at
all, except in a few places. But it would, of course, ruin the
effect of the free flow of the river. Instead of many great rapids
in the lower areas, there 1 d be a series of dams with their extensive
lakes. I don't know yet how far up they would reach. I imagine they
would go up under Hopi Point or even Bright Angel Point. But they
would be very hard to see from above. So it wouldn't have been a
matter of filling the Grand Canyon, like a bathtub, to the top.

Then the other plan was to divert the Colorado from near the
Navajo Bridge the eastern end of the Canyon from a fairly high
elevation, and with a very long tunnel bring it down to the lower
end to, I think, the Havasupai area. There'd be these great
waterfalls power-producing falls. That would take the water out
of the canyon proper, which would be very bad, and the lakes would


Adams: begin below that. I think that was probably the greatest

desecration. There was a very belligerent campaign, and Dave Brower
was extremely vociferous in it. The club, of course, was all against
it; as is the case of many other organizations and individuals of
considerable power that were fighting it too.

I think we did ourselves a bit of a disservice by not giving
credit to all the people that really worked on it. This is a thing
I've often felt as with the Save-the-Redwoods League. The club
simply would never mention the Save-the-Redwoods League, and yet that
was the backbone of the whole redwood preservation movement. This is
a kind of organization ego which I never could quite accept. I mean,
not that we didn't do a great deal, but I don't think you could ever
say that one person or group did it all. But, in any event, the dams
are temporarily stopped.

Now, there's other dams in the Cameron area above the Grand
Canyon that are planned and, I guess, many more that will serve as
settling dams. You see, there's a lot of silt, sediment, alluvial
soil, etc. The amount of silt is tremendous at Boulder Dam. There's
something like seventy-five freight cars a day (somebody said seventy-
five freight trains) pouring into it by the river flow. Anyhow, this
enormous amount of material is going into Boulder Dam and silting it
up. It won't be so long as they originally thought I think they
figured two hundred years, and now they say it's less than half that
time, before the Boulder Dam will be just a nice sandy plateau with
a wall -at one end and the river pouring over it.

Of course, what that does, as far as power is concerned, is not
so bad. It does do a great deal of harm to water storage. As the lake
becomes shallow, you can't store as much water. Of course, the water
below that now is relatively clear. But they're thinking of putting
what they call settling dams (and I think they have a few now) up in
the eastern areas of the Colorado. But those are going to fill up
too! There are already pictures of quite a number of dams in that
sandstone country that are absolutely filled up just plateaus. The
future is a scary thing to think of.

You see, with a place like the Hetch Hetchy in the Sierra
Nevada, where you have granite rock, you have very little silt. You
have some. The Hetch Hetchy will fill up with silt some day. When it
draws down, we see mud, but that probably is more local than otherwise.
Because there isn't much dirt carried down by the Tuolumne River,
even in high floods. But the Colorado is always running with thick
reddish silt.

Teiser: Were you implying that you thought a low dam might not be very
destructive in the Grand Canyon?


Adams: [Thinking] No, no. Well, a low dam at the western end would

simply not bring the water back as far, but then it would be very
uneconomical; it would fill up very quickly. Putting in a dam that
wouldn't work for long would be worse than putting in a bigger one
that would for a time. It would be very hard to destroy the visual
impact of the Grand Canyon, but you certainly could damage the
quality of the bottom of the canyon itself it would be ruined. But
that's the basic problem now everywhere how to preserve the .
integrity of the rivers. We have the Wild River programs, to leave
rivers alone for boating and rafting and just for themselves. But
the water power people in the West are very much against that,
because they claim that damming up a river and using it for power
and agriculture is of much greater benefit to humanity than just
having it available for a few river-rapid runners. That's just the
eternal balance for numbers I mean, what is a true benefit? If you
just put it on a physical basis, of benefit for the majority, why,
then you could wreck everything because what's the use of having an
opera if only six thousand people go and there's a million people in
the area? Why spend the money? Or an art gallery how many people
see it? You know, you can just carry that to absurdity equating
quality with just quantity use.

Teiser: The Grand Canyon campaign was what lost the Sierra Club its tax free
status. Is that right, or is that oversimplifying it?

Adams: Well, no. It was due to the fact that he the Internal Revenue law
clearly states that any public organization that uses funds to
influence legislation loses its tax deductible status. That's the
law. Well, we did put out some advertisements on the Grand Canyon
which clearly stated, "Write your congressman against this." We
were obviously influencing legislation. I think what did it was the
final redwood advertisement along the same lines.

Now, I was told on very good authority that the IRS tried to
work with Brower, telling him how he could do this and not yet run
afoul of the law get another group to do it in some way so it would
be legitimately safe. But he just had a great scorn for the IRS, so
he rejected the idea. Then there was nothing else to do for the IRS
but let the axe down.

We had fortunately anticipated this, and we formed the Trustees
for Conservation and later the Sierra Club Foundation, which by the
way took in $400,000 last year. They're doing wonderfully. And of
course we can then disperse the funds to the club for purposes not
influencing legislation education and lawsuits, publications and
properties, etc.

Teiser: All those years the Sierra Club had been influencing legislation by
inviting a senator to lunch, talking with congressmen, all kinds of


Adams: Oh yes, but it wasn't done obviously.
Teiser: Nor was it done with any large expenditure?

Adams: Sixty thousand dollars, a hundred thousand for one of those ads,
you know that's pretty considerable amounts.

Teiser: Did the club back Brower in those ads?

Adams: A lot of people were very much scared and tried to dissuade him,
because they knew what was going to happen. People like Leonard
would say, "Well, if it happens, we have the foundation."

Teiser: Did they like the idea of the ads themselves?

Adams: Well, I think they liked the idea of the ads if they worked, and I
think they certainly did work.

The Sierra Club Foundation

Adams: We got a lot of support, but the tragedy was that when the axe fell
and'we were declared non-tax deductible, then Brower wanted to fight
the IRS. So for a whole year he would just say it's costing the
club $5000 a week in donations; but never once would mention the
foundation, which could have received all these donations, until
finally President Wayburn ordered him to stop such statements, which
he should have done a year before.

That was a very strange, vague, mixed-up period, because it
didn't make any sense. If we hadn't had the foundation, then it
would have been disastrous. But instead of our urging, "Well, let's
try to change the law" and spend time and funds agitating for a
change in the law, we just defied it. In the meantime, the money
could have gone to the foundation. But Brower just wouldn't come
clean with it, and of course that cost us a great deal of money
for a year.

We really did lose, because when people heard of the foundation,
they were just aghast "Why didn't you tell us it existed?" "Well,
Brewer's mad at the IRS." It was a monumentally stupid procedure.

Online LibraryAnsel AdamsConversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 → online text (page 69 of 76)