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

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it was rather an effective show, and many people came and Dave
McAlpin gave a banquet afterwards for about twenty-eight people. It
was a very festive occasion.

That show is all beautifully framed and cased and will go on
tour. The plans now are it's going to Indianapolis, then it's going
to Washington at the Corcoran Gallery, and then it's going to the
Victoria and Albert Museum in London (maybe a couple of places in
this country before it goes to England). So I'm satisfied with that.

There are some funds that McAlpin put up to put this show on.
And anything that's left over the costs of the show will be used for
acquisitions. So maybe somebody will come up and buy the whole

Did you choose the prints?

Yes. Of course, in a case like this, you choose many more prints
than you use. You line up prints that you think will work, and then
you give them a choice.

Teiser: Were you there at the time of the installation?


Adams :


Adams :




No, that's one thing we try to do is to keep away from the curators!
We think those people are experts and it drives them completely
batty to have the artist coming around dictating the hanging. The
artist takes his chance, but that's their field.

When Paul Strand put up his show at the museum he drove them
all nuts by shifting everything around. They tried to arrange
things in sequence, but he didn't like that. It just drove them
crazy, so I swore that I'd have nothing to do with the hanging.

You didn't have anything to do with hanging the last San Francisco
show either?

No. We may put together a few categories just as suggestions in San
Francisco. We had the photographs divided into a Yosemite gallery
and a Southwest gallery and a San Francisco gallery. That was their
decision. As we supplied them more prints than they used, that gave
them a certain flexibility.

So now the next step is going to Aries in July, and I can stay
only a short time because the [new] book will not be fully printed
by the time we leave on July 11. My contract reads that I have to
stay around the press room when the book is being printed.

Which book is this?

The New York Graphic Society book, the big one.

What's the title of that to be?

Adams: It's just Ansel Adams, Images 1923-1974.

Virginia and Mike and Jeannie [Dr. Michael Adams and his wife]
and one of the grandchildren are going to Europe with me, and they'll
stay over several weeks.

Teiser: What is the event?

Adams: It's a festival of the arts, and they have photographic workshops
and exhibits.

Teiser: I see. Are you going to participate in a workshop?

Adams: I'm participating in some kind of a workshop with translators I speak
no French. I better speak English I [Laughter] I don't look forward
to it with much pleasure; it's going to be hotter than hell. Oh yes,
everybody tells me that it's just like Fresno. [Laughter] It's a very
hot place. They'll say it isn't, it may not be at night, but it's
very hot in the daytime. It's inland


Polaroid Prints

Teiser: Let me ask you a question that just came to mind while we were

talking. Your Polaroid prints, of course each one is unique, but
do you have record copies?

Adams: Yes, there are a lot of copies. There are copies now in reproductions
in a little book called The Singular Image, which is just the
Polaroid prints that are in the New York show. They really belong to
the Polaroid Corporation.

Teiser: I see. But somewhere there are some kind of records of them, so that
if one were destroyed, you'd have a

Adams: Yes, but it's pretty hard to get a good thing. It's very hard to

make copies because the Polaroids have what is called a linear tonal
scale. No other photographic material has such a linear scale. What
you see in the image is practically a "straight line," a proportionate
increase in tonal values the mind recognizes and responds to.

Teiser: Do you ever do these on p/n material?

Adams: Oh yes; I have about fourteen 55 p/n enlargements in the exhibit.

But most are original Type 52 prints, long before there was 55 p/n.

Teiser: Is that a field for research, making adequate copies or duplicates?

Adams: Yes, I think it is. I think there are two big things to work on.
One is to make adequate copy negatives of fine prints, so that you
would be able to duplicate them in as true scale as possible, and
the other problem would be to prepare a treatise on what the lighting
of objects of art should be; different mediums require different
levels of lighting.

Lighting Pictures

Adams: But a very interesting thing. Mrs. Carlson had a modern French
painting with a rather somber, rich feeling, in a room in her
apartment in Carmel. Her new apartment at Pacific Grove is about
three times as bright, and the picture seems quite different in
effect. But still, it looks good (only different) in either
condition. This light here in our gallery is very beautiful for
photographs now. But I had to drop the flood lights by over four
feet to bring it up to the required value. I should have installed
a light rail, but that would have been very expensive.


Teiser: But the skylights and

Adams: That was all worked out together.

Teiser: How high is the ceiling?

Adams: Sixteen and a half feet.

Teiser: And the lights are now at about what angle to the photographs?

Adams: A fairly acute angle to avoid reflection and about five-six feet

from the prints. The room in San Francisco was nineteen feet high
and twenty-three feet wide. This is sixteen feet high and wide;
everybody thinks this is bigger than the San Francisco room. It
is bigger in square footage but less in height than the San
Francisco room.


Teiser: And what next?

Adams: Going to have a big lecture and reception at the Corcoran Gallery,
and then I have to go to England in 1976 and give three lectures
for the Royal Photographic Society, because I got into an awful
mix-up with them by promising them a show and then had to have it
at the Victoria and Albert Museum because of the Metropolitan
Museum's plans. We had to go through some big maneuverings with
the Royal Photographic Society to get out of this conflict. And
they agreed, provided I come over and give the three lectures.

Teiser: When will that be?
Adams: Seventy-six some time.

Then the new plan is that the prices for my photographs go up.
They all go up to $500 on September 1. If you order before that
time, they'll be at the present price. The result is that galleries
will send in enough orders to keep me busy for an awful long time.

Then, on January 1, 1976, I don't take any more orders. I'm
finished printing "to order." I can make sets of work which will
have institutional acquisition. We already have some leads. From
anywhere from $25 to $100,000, depending on the size of the sets
they may take.

Some of the negatives that I haven't printed, if I don't print
those things before I go to the happy hypo baths, it will be
terrible. So I must get busy and print! [Laughter]


Adams: I have a lot ahead. Then I have Portfolio Seven coining out next

Teiser: Has all this high degree of organization come about through

Adams: Oh yes, he's done a wonderful job.
Teiser: Has he made out this time schedule?

Adams: Yes, he's made out all the schedules, raised all the prices, and
made the business arrangements. The Turnages really made the
Yosemite gallery work out beautifully.

Teiser: But your print time schedule, and prices and so forth since he's
worked that out, you don't have to bother with them in the future.

Adams: I just have to do the work.
Teiser: That leaves you free for the creative work.
Adams: Presumably more than now, at least.
[End Tape 30, Side 1]

Art Festival at Aries

[Interview XXVI 23 February 1975]
[Begin Tape 31, Side 1]

Teiser: Last time we talked was before you went to France last year.

Adams: Yes, that's right.

Teiser: So would you begin with your exhibit in Aries?

Adams: The trip was really short, and it is very foolish of me to try to
give any description of France with such a very short and hectic
stay. It seemed that the government had arranged for the exhibit
to be placed in one of the Aries museums while I was there. It was
quite handsomely hung and opened on Bastille Day, and great
fireworks were going on the other side of the river, so it was quite
a celebration. [Interruption]

So I came in at the tail end of the French group with a little
interim of a few days, and then started at the beginning of the
American group.


Teiser: Was it a conference on photography and the arts?

Adams: It was called the "Art Festival at Aries" and it presented all

media. There were marvelous tapestries, and there was music and
opera and ballet. I didn't attend any of these things but the
tapestries I preferred the extraordinarily good cooking! Some of
the events were held in the great ruined abbey, just east of the
town, and then I was driven on to Les Baux, saw that pretty
thoroughly and had dinner at a very elaborate and famous
restaurant near there.

Then the day I left I flew to Paris from Marseille in the
morning, made a pilgrimage to the Louvre in the afternoon.

Teiser: Before you leave Aries you were there with a number of French
photographers. Did you all discuss photography together?

Adams: Oh yes. Also the Whites from Stanford who actually ran the

American workshop. They were in charge of that particular phase
of photography. We had a few field trips, lectures, discussions
of photographs others' prints as well as a discussion of my
prints as were exhibited in the museum.

Teiser: Did any clear divisions come out between the American attitudes
toward photography and the French attitudes toward photography?

Adams: Yes, there was always a great difference between the European

approach and the American approach, because most of the Europeans
have little or no interest in what we call "print quality." That
lack of interest in print quality, of course, is I think probably
the dominant difference. The European is interested in I call it
"observation." Very few people in France buy prints as such. They
mostly are concerned with events, observation, journalism, and so

Teiser: I think the French photographers there were Lartigue

Adams: There was I Jacques Henri] Lartigue and Brassai. My sponsor was
Lucien Clergue. Then there were many that I can't remember the
names of. But those were the prominent influence Brassai,
Lartigue, and Clergue.

Teiser: Wasn't Cartier-Bresson there?

Adams: Cartier-Bresson came down for a lunch. But he's a very peculiar
man; wished to be totally incognito, but somebody recognized him.
It upset him greatly to be recognized, so he disappeared very
quickly. But he contributed nothing to the festival that I know of.

Teiser: The gentleman with the [looking at photograph]





Adams :

That's Brassai. The gentleman with the white hair and very noble
face to my left there is Lartigue. Lucien Clergue did not show in
these pictures.

You have a wonderful portrait of Brassai.

Yes, and I also have a beautiful portrait of Lartigue, which I did
at Aries. In fact, the only decent picture I made. I find it very
difficult to photograph, both because of the light and the peculiar
feeling that everything had been done and was old and had many,
many centuries of restorations. I just could not get very excited.
I suppose I would have to go back there and live quite a long time.
I can understand more now the French approach to people, events,

But you don't like it much?

No, I was very glad to get home,
looked good to me. [Laughter]

After Paris?

I have to admit, even Los Angeles

I was terribly disappointed in Paris the highrises. Another thing
that bothered me was the untidiness of the landscape; people
littered. I think the outstanding events of the trip were meeting
some of these wonderful people; the ride on the Mistral (the train
from Paris south); the incredible food; and the gorgeous view of
the east coast of Greenland on the way home. [Laughter] That alone
was worth the trip.

Images, 1923-1974

Teiser: Then I guess the next big event was the publication of the New
York Graphic Society book.

Adams: Then I came back from Europe in time to continue supervision of the

Teiser: Tell a little about the production of that book which involved you
so heavily for so long.

Adams: Well, it was designed by Adrian Wilson. He and I and others went
through hundreds of pictures and chose the ones that would "flow"
properly. Of course there's always many left out that I regret but
can't help, as there's a limit. There are a few in the book that I
would like to have placed differently now that I see it actually
finished. Wallace Stegner did a great job with the text, and you
know George Waters did the printing.


Adams: Adrian's job, of course, was not only the layout and design of

the book, but also the production of the mechanicals. That means
the drawings of the pages where every image is accurately scaled
and then bound together so there's no error in page number. It is
the general dummy production of the book.

Then George Waters made the reproductions to Adrian's
specifications. There's a new system of proofing, what they call
the "two-pass litho" two separate plates that can be proofed
together. You really see in these wonderful new proofs just about
what the final plate's going to hold. But of course that doesn't
control the inking .

In any event, many of the plates had to be made over several
times, and it was all mutually agreed that I would supervise that
and they would be made to my specifications. No matter how good
the craftsmen are, it's very difficult for them to anticipate
just what the artist would like in terms of relative values and so

When the mechanicals are made and the original proofs are
finished, the engraving negatives are made (long-range and short-
range negatives), and they are mounted on the big sheets by what is
known as "the stripper;" he's a special craftsman. He mounts
these up with great accuracy and inserts the type lines.

Then his make-up is photographed on aluminum plates, which of
course are chemically treated and then developed on the basis of
an aquaphobic and aquaphilic process, which means the areas that
reject water and the areas that love water. The aquaphilic relates
to the spaces between the dots that do not accept ink, and the
aquaphobic are just the dots, with no actual raised type in the
litho process. The aquaphobic are the spaces that accept the ink
and transfer it from the roller to the blanket and then from the
blanket to the paper.

How's that?

Teiser: Fine. {Interruption]

Let me ask you, how did the book start?
and ask you for it?

Did they come to you

Adams: No, an agent in San Francisco decided it was about time that there
was a big definitive book of my work done. So I said, "That's
great." He said, "I'll act as your agent and try to place it."
And he almost placed it with several big publishing houses. They
finally backed off because they were afraid of the costs, which
were pretty terrific.


Adams: Then he got to the New York Graphic Society, and they were quite
crazy about it, but they also said, well, they were in a
precarious position. They changed managers, so there was one man
who had it just about going and then another man came in and held

So finally another man moved in as managing editor and
director, and Bill Turnage saw him and arranged for the book. He
convinced him of the merit of doing it and also pressed the deluxe
edition concept, which of course raised the value of the book
rather severely.

Then they full-speeded it ahead. I said I'd like to
supervise the printing, so George Waters being in San Francisco
was the logical printer, and we worked with Adrian Wilson. Adrian
Wilson wasn't too well, increasingly debilitated his heart pacer
was not acting right. (He's all right now.)

At any event, there were some delays. The problem involved
in that is that once the plates are made, and you've accepted the
proofs, you still might find defective images in proofs from the
press. So sometimes you have to go all the way back and make
another plate and go through the whole process. It is a pretty
costly business. And of course George anticipated all that.

These plates were printed on the Miehle two-color press.
They're very carefully aligned so the two images are accurately
imposed one on top of the other, and they come rolling out at about
fifty-three sheets a minute; that seems to be the optimum time for
the ink.

You have to remember, the ink passes from the inked plate to
the blanket. One of the plates is inked with a warmer color than
another; that's worked out so that we get the proper "color" of
ink as we call it. There's a very small percentage, 3 to 5 percent,
brown added to the black in one plate. One plate is the extended
range, which takes the full range, and the other is the short
range, which just takes the extremes. That means that the effective
exposure range of the process is increased, because it's very hard
for them to work with a full-scale photograph which may have a
reflection range of one to a hundred, and they're limited to about
one to thirty-five.

So I have to make prints softer than I would ordinarily, even
for that process. Otherwise, either the whites or the blacks would
be lost.


Adams: They have to run up to five hundred copies for "running in" the

ink. They do that, of course, on sheets that have been used many
times; you don't waste all that paper every time, although there
is a very high wastage on a book of this character.

And then it's my job to say, "Well, the ink on this side needs
a little support, a little more, I think." Or, "It's a little bit
too heavy here." Of course, if we would have what is called "four
U P>" you'd have four plates on a sheet. So when you'd adjust the
ink on one, you're also affecting the one above it, the one that
comes in afterwards, you might say. So there's always a certain
compromise to make. We printed "eight up" on a sheet.

A collated book, such as the My Camera in Yosemite, My Camera
in the National Parks, etc., are all printed one or two up, and
they're adjusted so the inking for one plate is the same as the
inking for another. The sheets can then be cut and perforated
and collated separately, but you're not subject to this problem of
four up or eight up.

After the impressions are approved, then if the pressman is
an honest man and this man was remarkable he'll stop the press
immediately if a defect appears. Once in a while defects do appear;
they can't watch every sheet. When they find a defect, they
immediately stop the press, clean off the plate, try to find the
numbers of sheets that are bad, and discard those. Some do get
through; we do have a few troubles. But after they have stopped
the press and cleaned the plates, they still have to run through
quite a number of blank sheets to reestablish the ink flow again.

So sometimes I would take the seven o'clock plane from
Monterey and be met by George at about seven-thirty, drive in to
San Francisco and go to work. Sometimes we'd get it done to the
point where I could take the two-thirty plane home, sometimes I'd
have to wait until six-thirty, sometimes I'd have to stay overnight
and continue the next morning. But very often we'd go right
through and suddenly find there was a defect or something had
happened. And then a whole new plate would have to be remade, and
that would mean a whole afternoon, and we'd get it back that night.
Occasionally they ran a night shift when we had a very simple plate,
especially the text pages. The printer would set them up and the
night shift would come on and follow through. The whole level of
the printers' union is very high they're very exacting.

Teiser: Was the format of the book decided upon before the contents?

Adams: Well, it all comes together. We decided we were going to do a big
book. I said, "Let's do a horizontal book because then we won't
have any double trucks," as they call the divided plates, which are


Adams: terrible. Most of my important images are horizontal anyway, so
this gives it a wonderful chance for scale. And the vertical
prints don't suffer at all by it.

However, a horizontal book of that size bound on the short end
gives some terrific binding problems. We had an awful time finding
a binder who'd come within reason. Finally, the Killer Binding
Company in Salt Lake City did it. They have a tremendous plant
and they handle things very well, but they did some sloppy work
for us.

Teiser: The book has now gone through several printings, has it?

Adams: No. The first edition was eighteen thousand, I think; that was the
first planned edition. Before they had really finished half of
that, they realized they needed another ten thousand. Well, we
finished the first one, then we were able to make a few corrections,
and the next should have been called the second printing, but it
wasn't, it was still called the first printing. So twenty-eight
thousand copies constitutes the first printing. Technically, it
should be one and two, but there's not enough difference between
them. The third printing will have thirty corrections, and that
will take place some time this spring; the paper's already ordered.
We hope that will be another ten thousand copies, but it may not
come to pass.

Teiser: What sort of corrections were needed?

Adams: Oh, dates on pictures, for one thing. A few typos. You get them
no matter how carefully you handle it. I wanted to shift the
position of a couple of plates I think ending with Mount McKinley
would have been better than our present ending. But you can't
worry about that now

Teiser: The special edition, I suppose is all gone.

Adams: The special edition is practically all gone; there was one

thousand copies made. We had trouble with that, with difficult
binding casings. We had a terrible time finding good cases to
hold both the print and the book sturdily. And the book is bound
and the trtd's leather, and I think it should have been mostly all

I don't think there's enough apparent difference between the
editions to justify it, except that there is an original fine
print with the special edition, and a special case.

There were five hundred made, with one to five hundred Arabic
and one to five hundred Roman numerals, and one of twenty-six
letters, and most of the lettered copies had serious defects that
we had to reject. So far I haven't found any bad deluxe editions.



Adams :



Ted Organ:

Adams :

The New York Graphic Society is a subsidiary of Time, Incorporated,
is it?


Did you feel well-publicized?

Oh, my gosh, yes. Nothing since sex books have been given such
publicity. [Laughter] I had to go all over the country for signing,

You see,
were taking a
go to $75 it
in the hole,
if they didn'
canceled out,
seven years,
losers, which

they were under some difficulty too, because they
chance. If the book is priced at $65 and then they
was very costly, and if they didn't sell they'd be
The New York Graphic Society had been advised that
t make a good showing for 1974 they were going to be
dissolved, because they hadn't made any money for
Time-Life felt what's the use of perpetuating money
was quite right. (There's lots of them around.)

So you bailed them out?

So this book apparently saved them.

How many copies have they sold?

They've sold nearly the entire twenty-eight thousand and are
getting ready to print the next ten thousand, I think, which will
bring it to thirty-eight thousand copies. I think they have a few
thousand copies left. And then of course there are some returns.
There were more returns than expected because of bad binding.

So we say the book was very successful. I haven't seen any
negative reviews yet I suppose there are some. We do have quite
a few returns, but some of those returns are made up soon. So I
suppose it would be safe to say that twenty-five thousand copies
have been sold at this time.

The next book in process is The Southwest, which will come
out in conjunction with the exhibit down at the University of
Arizona and the Amon Carter Museum. We don't have all the details,
but we're getting figures on the book. It won't be nearly as big
as Images; it will be a squarish book maybe 9 1/2 by 12. As it's

Online LibraryAnsel AdamsConversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 → online text (page 73 of 76)