Ansel Adams.

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

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bound on the narrow side in that size, it can be bound by automatic
binding equipment, which will make it better. They made some
mistakes in this book with collating. After it's thoroughly sewn,
they apply what they call "perfect binding fluid" just to pack it
up a little more, and some of that got out on some of the pages and
stuck them together. These things always happen, but still


Adams: The thing they did do which was bad, and they certainly got their
wrists slapped for it, was they didn't reinforce the end papers.
When you open and close a book a certain number of times, unless
those end papers are reinforced, the binding will break. The bound
book is held to the case by the end papers, and that's reinforced
with a piece of linen on both sides.

White House Visit

Teiser: Your recent visit to the White House [January 27, 1975] that was so
widely publicized

Adams: I made a trip to Washington to see the secretary and the President
and go on to the opening of the Edward Weston show at the Museum
of Modern Art in New York.

Teiser: How did you happen to go see the President and the secretary the
secretary of the interior, wasn't it?

Adams: Well, [Rogers C.B.] Morton I've known for a long time, and I saw

him because I was in Washington. But what happened was, the White
House photographer is a very nice young man, and he'd got very
excited about the book, bought a copy, and then took it over and
showed it to the Fords, and Mrs. Ford immediately borrowed it and
kept it. So Turnage suggested we make a presentation copy to the
President, which was I think the right thing to do. Then she
expressed great interest in having one of the prints, "Clearing
Winter Storm, Yosemite." So I just happened to have one, a big-
sized one, at hand, and so we packed that off to her.

The idea was that I'd go there and have a semiofficial
presentation. So after seeing the secretary of the interior, we
got to the White House at twelve o'clock, and we met in the Oval
Room and then had to go outside to get pictures taken, and came
back and spent maybe twenty-five minutes talking with the President,
primarily on national parks.

Teiser: What did you tell him?

Adams: Well, you see, the national parks have not had good presidential
support for many years. We were perfectly frank about it. We
said that the parks should have strong presidential support and
this was his chance with the forthcoming campaign this could be
a very important element of his platform, because people have been
very upset about the way the parks haven't been protected.


Adams: So we sat there and had a very pleasant discussion. He's a very
impressive person. He's very quiet; he's very gentle; he looks
you right in the eye, and you have a feeling of complete integrity.

Then after that was over Mrs. Ford took us for a complete
tour of the White House everything marvelous.

Teiser: Who's us?

Adams: Bill Turnage and the New York Times photographer and the White

House photographer [David Kennerly] . The White House photographer
very seldom has his pictures appear in print. He doesn't break in
on the news people unless they request it.

So then we had a very amusing thing happen. We went into the
third floor, the family quarters. There's little corner rooms.
And the corner room on the southeast is her room, a kind of a den
where she can read. Well, she has staff offices too, you know an
awful lot of social things go on. But she has this little
hideaway. Then she took us to the other side and said, with a big
smile, "Our predecessor loved this room. He would come in here and
read. He had all his hi-fi equipment in this cabinet. This is
where he used to come and play his tapes I mean his records."
[Laughter] And everybody guffawed.

Then we had a very nice informal luncheon in what they call
the solarium, which is really her girl's room, but she appropriates
it for these occasions. The whole thing was really very engaging.

After that we were driven to the hotel to pick the baggage up
and taken to the International Airport.

Park Problems and Solutions

Teiser: What did you tell Secretary Morton ?

[End Tape 31, Side 1]
[Begin Tape 31, Side 2]

Adams: Well, I had known Morton not too well. He was very cordial. I

gave him a copy of the book, and then we talked about the national
parks in greater detail, about the very miserable master plan that
had been motivated pretty much by the concessioners, and distorted,
and that we felt that it needed great strength and support from him
directly, as secretary of the interior


Teiser: That was particularly in relation to Yosemite?

Adams: Well, yes; of course Yosemite is a key park. What they accomplish
in Yosemite is really the symbol of what will be done elsewhere;
but it has to be done. It's sort of proven to be our function in
Yosemite many innovations, like the buses, are very satisfactory.
But a lot of the master plan was very bad and was very much
oriented toward further development.

I pointed out at least two things: that the establishment of
the national park system by Stephen Mather was predicated on the
fact that business would be invited in to invest in public services-
hotels and food and so on and that they would be strictly
controlled. They'd be allowed to make a fair profit, but they
would remain under the strict control of the government.

As every building was government property, you couldn't use it
for collateral for business loans, which meant that they [the
concessioners] had to finance everything themselves, which of course
resulted in investments whose only source would be increased charges
to the public even when amortized over a period of years.

We had that in Yosemite when we applied for renewal of
concession we had to put up over $100,000 for refurbishing the
building, because it was about ready to collapse anyway, and do a
lot of things of that nature, and we couldn't borrow anything from
the bank for the building; we had to put our own resources up for
collateral. It actually paid off, but that's the only way it could
be done. But if the government had moved in on their own and
purchased the equity on all these buildings, then leased the
operations, the government could then, by a very slight increase in
fees to visitors, easily amortize the government investment, and the
rates to the public would then significantly drop.

Of course we had to pay a 5 percent on gross income as a
concession fee, plus putting aside another 5 percent for
construction amortization for the next time it came around. Turnage
was able to reduce the concession fee to one percent in our case.
The Yosemite Park and Curry Company only paid 1 3/8 percent it's
a big company! So we always considered it to be very unfair that
the company netting $20 million a year only paid 13/8 percent,
whereas a company grossing $150,000 or $200,000 would have to pay
5 percent.

Well, we've progressed considerably since then, but for a
$100,000 gross, that 5 percent is $5000 as against $1000 for one
percent. Five thousand dollars puts a nice bite into the pocket-


Teiser: You mentioned last evening that you also were discussing the
semantics of parks

Adams: Yes, that was another thing that I think is terribly important,
that I stress in all my lectures the fact that for years the
public and the government, everyone, has labored under the
tyranny of words. They've implied meanings. The word "park" in
"Yosemite National Park," "Golden Gate Park," or "Central Park,"
or a town park with a bandstand, implies a place for fun,
recreation, etc. There's no implication at all of preservation.

The "Point Lobos State Reserve" is a marvelous name because
the "reserve" really defines what it is. It should be "Sequoia
National Reserve" and "Yosemite National Reserve;" that would be
the dominant controlling descriptive term, and I think everybody
would then begin to understand. They don't understand a "wilderness
area" because "wilderness" is just as vague a term as "conservation."
The middle of the Mojave Desert is wilderness and a lot of Los
Angeles is wilderness [laughing]. There you're speaking of areas
and to attribute a park quality to wilderness areas, you're
producing a very vague definitive term. It should be a "reserve"
or "preserve," or you can have certain areas, like the Hastings
preserve up the Carmel Valley, operated by the University of
California I forget the name but it's part of the University not
extension, but a station. It's not open to the public; it's a
natural science preserve where they study animals and ecology.
Well, that's fine. That's a small area for specific scientific use.
The "wilderness reserve" is just simply things left alone as they
are, but the place should always be accessible under very simple
terms, like trails only, no roads, to walkers and riders. But
under a controlled basis, on the theory that you have an opera
house and you have an opera and you sell out all the seats and a
little standing room and all you have left is lap room and you
shouldn't be selling figurative lap room in the Sierra. [Laughter]

And they have to have controls, like limiting the number of
people at a remote lake. Well, in the first place, I don't know
how they're going to limit them without great supervision. But
they've got to do it, in some way they've got to have a
reservation system. I've been told by computer experts that it
would be less difficult to install a reservation system for
national parks, state parks, and national forests than it would be
to put in an airline reservation system. You could go to the post
office and get an application on which you listed where you wanted
to go and the dates first, second, and third choice and put a
dollar in as the fee for that and send it off to the reservation
center. You would get back a reply. If there isn't any chance at
all, you are so advised; if your dates are acceptable and there's
room, all right, that's reserved for your purpose. But now if you


Adams: can't make it, then the next person is put on stand-by. But there
should be a penalty involved so that if you couldn't make it, you'd
have to advise them.

But you could control the whole national park system that way.
Somebody could say, "I want to be in Yosemite from the first to the
tenth of June and then go to Olympic from the twelfth to the
fifteenth" and have that all down, and that would be like selling
seats on a plane. There's no reason why it couldn't work. The
American Express card idea that the Park Service tried failed
because they couldn't make any money on it; that was a very stupid
thing for the then director to do.

Well, I guess that's all that was the second trip. Then I
went to the opening of the great Edward Weston show in New York.

Teiser: How was it received in New York?

Adams: Oh, tremendously. It was a magnificent show.

Teiser: You felt it was hung well?

Adams: I felt it was displayed beautifully. My only criticism is that it
was very icy; it wasn't at all like Edward's personality. The
smaller show at the Witkin Gallery had much more of the personal
feeling you had when Edward showed you his prints a small room and
the prints intimately presented. The big show had great rooms and
great white spaces and sharp lighting, but it was very cold.

Museums and certain galleries are getting more and more sterile
in that way. They do not think of the environment.

Teiser: Some contrast to the Louvre, though.

Adams: The Louvre was the most awful display I've ever seen in my life;
things are all crowded together; the lighting is terrible. The
paintings are neither clean nor well-protected. And my image of
the Venus de Milo in her room her face is turned away from the
light, and throngs of people under her with flashbulbs going off.
[Laughter] Everybody's photographing the Venus from all angles
with flash at the camera, which of course is the worst possible
lighting you can have. I was interested that the face was not
toward the window, and the marble looked rather yellowish and dusty,
and not at all like the photographs I've seen. .Then" the Courbets
and the Botticellis and the endless number of things you've seen in
great reproductions in art books all your life are just terribly
disappointing in their showing. And they say they show only a
fraction of what they've got. You know how big the Louvre is just
like the whole Civic Center in itself.


Death of Nancy Newhall
Teiser: I was going to ask if you want to say anything about Nancy Newhall.

Adams: Beaumont Newhall is one of my very oldest friends did we discuss
her tragic death?

Teiser: No.

Adams: Well, they had moved of course to Albuquerque where Beaumont was a
professor of history of photography at the University of New Mexico.
They were to give a workshop in Colorado Springs. But prior to that
they took a short vacation in the Tetons, which she loved very much.
They loved to go down the river in one of these big yellow
inflatable rubber boats, just floating down the Snake. I don't know
how many miles the trip is, but they dock eventually and are taken
back to the hotel by car.

So they were leaving on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon for
Colorado Springs, and they said, "Let's just take one more trip
down the river." They did, and they were floating along when a
great big spruce tree whose roots had been undermined by high water
(they'd had very high water that spring) suddenly decided to let go
and fell right on the raft, striking Nancy. It hit Beaumont a
little he had a sprained back and it knocked the other people
into the water. But Nancy was pinned by this big tree and
suffered shattered ankles and cracked ribs and broken collar bone
and multiple concussions. So they finally got her to the hospital
and she was gradually coming to, and they thought they'd be able to
take her to Albuquerque and take her home after a short time. But
she had moments of incoherence, and it was possible that she never
would have been herself again on account of brain damage. She just
suddenly died. Apparently the diagnosis was that when you have
shattered bones sometimes, the marrow can get in the blood stream
and cause a blockage in the brain. They said the bones splintered
so bad they couldn't repair the very shattered areas there. It
perhaps was a rather merciful thing that she did go that way rather
than linger on in a mentally impaired condition.

It was a great shock to Beaumont, but he's come out of it very
wonderfully and seems to be thriving with all kinds of new
objectives and work to do

Teiser: She had done a great deal, and a great deal of what she had done is
preserved in your books, isn't it?

Adams: Yes, she and I worked together at great length, and we had great

sympathy in many ways and approaches to the world. Towards the end
I would say she was getting a little eccentric on solar power, on a


Adams: very emotional basis and I was a little more careful, having had

so much experience with the fanatics, and I would say, "Be sure you
get scientific advice on what you write and say, because it still
is a very open and difficult question." Solar power has got great
potential, but it works in certain areas and doesn't work in others,
but not being a scientist I felt we have to be very careful. We
should get more scientific support. Of course, many of the
scientists disagree, which is an interesting fact.

Tom Jukes, for instance, thinks that in stopping the use of
DDT, the Sierra Club is favoring genocide. There are certain areas
of the world where DDT has eliminated the mosquito and millions of
lives have been saved, so that is a possibility we have to take.

The Sierra Club counters by saying it's bad for man and beast
and it's extinguishing species, and so on. But I think we should
be feeling that man is the most important thing; I still must favor
a human being over a pelican.

It's like nuclear power everybody's scared to death about the
wastes. Well, we must have enough technology to minimize the
dangers from the waste. But when you say we haven't got it, that
to me is very disturbing because we've surrendered, I think, to
many things of great importance just because of a fear and a
distrust of a fundamental technological capability, which I think
we have.

More on the Friends of Photography

Teiser: You were mentioning last night another subject Fred Parker and the
Friends of Photography. I didn't realize he had left.

Adams: Yes, we had an arrangement with him, a terminal arrangement, which
was I think very favorable. We weren't in a position to give him
a long-term contract, and he developed as sort of a sibling of Dave
Brower and became rather difficult in his managerial capacity and
rather disastrous in his financial awareness and also was making
enemies for the Friends by a very arbitrary attitude, although he
was an excellently trained and capable person in his field. And I
would say that he certainly had the ability, but not the
personality or method of human relationships, and we had to
terminate him.

He did a great deal for the Friends; he had fine exhibits and
he started the publication of Untitled, so I think the trouble is
just too bad. He was the best available person we could find and


Adams :

Adams :

Adams :


Adams :

there were many favorable opinions of him, not one unfavorable one.
But after a while, he became highly paranoid about the board and
the restrictions we had to put on him, just as Brower was. It was
almost an identical situation.

This year's Easter Workshop, "Practical Aesthetics," looks as if
it's somewhat less elaborate than earlier. Is that part of it?

Yes, it's still a little complicated,
the program are local.

But all of these people on

Was part of Parker's trouble that the workshops were too elaborate?

Well, yes, the one called "The Creative Experience" was just too
expensive. He was bringing in people from the East, cost of $800
for one lecture and we just broke even in a superficial way. But
now, for instance, with this program we have, I have one morning
and one day; Morley Baer will probably have two days; Dave Bohn
will probably have two days; Wynn Bullock, one day; Walter Chappell,
a presentation; Bernard Freemesser, probably two days; Oliver
Gagliani, maybe the full time; Dick Garrod, part of the full time;
Henry Gilpin, part of the full time; Jim Hill will be around quite
a little; Anita Mozley comes for a lecture; Henry Holmes Smith will
be here the full time; and John Upton may be half the time.

So all these names doesn't mean that that's the steady staff
over the six days.

Is this more your idea of what a workshop should be?

Yes, it's not as much of a workshop as it is a seminar. I feel
that my workshop in Yosemite is more effective in a particular
direction, like in teaching the application of the Zone System
visualization in relation to the natural scene. Well, that's a
subject which requires a lot of time. But we have quite a number
of people assisting me too there, because a divergent point of view
is less fatiguing and more exciting.

"The Creative Experience," of course, included everything
dance, poetry, music, philosophy, painting and that was a very
valuable experience for artists in any field, when you see what
the other arts are capable of. But it can be very expensive.

Will the Friends continue? You've retired
I'm chairman of the board.
You were president?


Adams: Yes. And we have William Rusher, who's a very capable person, in
administration, as president. But he doesn't pose as director.
The responsibility still is on me as far as the organization goes.
And we have Rodney Stewart as curator. But we have to find a
director who can raise money, meet people, make big plans and then
at that time I will retire from active participation.

Teiser: But you're continuing to take it in the same direction that it has
been going?

Adams: Well, we don't know. We have a committee for the future of the

Friends which has met a couple of times , and we have many ideas in
action. We know we're going to cancel some things, but whether
we'll change the character of othersWe don't know. Should we
have a gallery? If we have a gallery, should we have it in San
Francisco? Should we concentrate on publications? Should we have
workshops? And if so, where? All these questions have to be
balanced out because, as Bill Turnage pointed out, the Friends have
the best workshop series going in the country, and yet we can't
make money on it; we hardly break even.

The Friends, of course, have sometimes what looks like they
have made money a thousand or so but they haven't taken into
consideration their basic costs which, as a business, we would have
to consider a "burden" and all that. I think that we will continue
to have workshops and events, and while we don't want to make money
in a big sense of the term, we ought to be able to pay the overhead
and at the same time put away a 5 percent reserve fund for future
workshops. We're allowed that as a nonprofit foundation, there's
no question about that. If we started to make an awful lot of
money and paid very high salaries, we would then be under suspicion.

Future and Recent Events

Teiser: This is possibly related to something that we were talking about
last evening, your plans and the Arizona plans.

Adams: Well, yes. My basic plan is, my prices rise again to $800 a print
in September, because that is going to be the relative price of the
print in Portfolio Seven, and after January 1, 1976, I don't make
any more prints to order. So the gallery people are being advised
that the $500 price that's now obtained is still available at my

Teiser: You won't make any more prints to order?


Adams: Won't make any more prints to order except sets.

Teiser: Suppose somebody wants a photograph for publication?

Adams: We haven't decided on that.

Teiser: Your portrait of somebody, say.

Adams: Oh, I think that might be obtainable, but prints are not for sale.
The point of that is that the dealers will advance and finance
enough prints to hold them for a long time. Then, say, I do some
new work and I have an exhibit. Well, that exhibit would
presumably be made if it would be purchased by an organization.
Suppose that MIT wanted an exhibit, or Harvard, or Albuquerque.
Well, they could have an exhibit and they would have to pay me
maybe 50 percent of $800, maybe $400 a print, and there might be
some concession, but not much on that. So in that way organizations
could get exhibits. Individuals could, I suppose, buy for an
organization. But to protect the dealers who have put out so much
for you

If I didn't do it this way, I would be stuck in the darkroom
continuously filling orders. And raising the price hasn't done too
much damage to the level of orders; in fact, orders are still coming

Other people have equally raised prices to match mine. It's
amazing what some of the earlier things sell for, absolutely
astonishing. Four thousand dollars for Portfolio One things like

Teiser: I think you were mentioning a tentative plan you had for placing
your negatives

Adams: Well, we have it planned that the University of Arizona they have
the money and the attitude it was very encouraging marvelous idea
to be really the center of photography. They want the archives of
people everything. So my plan is that all my papers and
manuscripts relating to all my photography not necessarily my
personal collection of other photographers' work, although I think
I will present that to them all the prints that I have, books,
archives in any way, would go to them as a basic collection. It is
called the Center for Creative Photography. The Sierra Club
material will go to The Bancroft Library. But the point is that if
my negatives and everything went to The Bancroft they would just go
into a big safe because there's no way to handle it. Here they're
going to have a photographic center and academic program, and the
negatives will be available to use. It is a very important concept.


Teiser: I think Imogen Cunningham perhaps told you her plan for her trust
that's a different sort of plan.

Adams: Well, I think she's having difficulty with it because I don't think
it's a real trust. I think what she's really talking aboat is a
partnership that might become a trust after her death.

Edward Weston's work: his sons being photographers, they were
very able to keep printing it well.

Wynn Bullock's work is going to the University of Arizona.

Online LibraryAnsel AdamsConversations with Ansel Adams : oral history transcript / 1972-1975 → online text (page 74 of 76)