Riding with Ansel Adams


Joined July 2011

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Canon 5D Mark 2 with 24-105mm 1:4 lens
Mac Pro with Photoshop CS5 and Wacom Tablet.

I remember it like it was yesterday, the change encounter that would set the course for my life’s work. It was late October in 1941 and I was a seventeen-year-old kid ridding with my dad in his old pick-up truck heading back to our ranch outside of Santa Fe New Mexico. It was mid-afternoon when the old truck broke down and left us stranded out on Highway 84. We grabbed a canteen and started walking down the road hoping we could get a ride. It wasn’t long before we could see what looked like a station wagon parked along the road just ahead. When we approached the wood paneled Ford nobody was around, but then we spotted someone about a hundred yards away working with what looked like surveyors equipment, so we went out to see if he could give us a ride. He was a tall slender fellow with a beard and it turned out his equipment was for taking pictures. He was a soft-spoken friendly guy named Ansel, and he said he was on his way back to Santa Fe and that he’d be glad to give us a lift.
It was late afternoon and we had gone about ten miles down the road not far from Espinosa. Ansil was telling us about the National Parks and some of the places where he had taken pictures when suddenly he was distracted by something up ahead. He said, “oh, this could be very interesting but we must hurry if we are going to catch the light”. Dad and I looked off in the same direction but couldn’t figure out what he was getting all excited about. It was almost sundown and just east of the highway I noticed the full moon coming up over this little town called Hernandez. There were just a few buildings, along with a church, and a cemetery with several white crosses. “We must hurry” he said, “and I’ll need your help with the equipment”. Ansel grabbed the big camera, Dad got the tripod, and I carried his toolbox as we scrambled across the road. As he was setting up he said “quickly my boy, bring be that box with my light meter”. He dug through the contents but it wasn’t there. “No more time, I’ll have to guess the exposure” he said franticly, and snapped the shutter. He grabbed for the film box to load another negative, but before he could get it into the big 8×10 camera the sunlight passed from the white crosses and the moment had passed. As we loaded things back into the station wagon he said “what just happened here was a romantic emotional moment in time”.
About a month later the mail carrier brought a flat package to the ranch with a note inside that read “I couldn’t have made this photograph without your help, please accept this print as a gesture of thanks”. We had driven by that little town a hundred times and never really noticed it. Here in our hands was an image with distant clouds that looked to be a hundred miles high behind a village basted in the glow of the setting sun. It all appeared to be orchestrated by the rising moon, and it was indeed magical.
The next morning was December 7, a day that would change the course of every life in America, including mine. I did my tour of duty in Europe and returned from the war without ever firing my weapon. I worked in a laboratory where we developed reconnaissance photographs. When I got back to the states I started a little photo studio in Santa Fe and kept it running for forty years until I retired in 1990. Not long after that, my wife and I decided to sell our house and find a little apartment in town. But first we were going to have to sell off a lot of stuff we accumulated over a lifetime. After two weeks of sorting out the contents of the attic, basement, and the closets, we came upon a trunk that had belonged to my dad. It must have been in the attic for better than thirty years. There were letters I had written and sent home during the war, along with numerous papers and records from long ago. Finally, as we got all the way at the bottom there was one last oversized envelope that was wrapped in cardboard. My daughter opened it and said “Sure would be nice if this was real, you guys would be rich.” Well there it was, the photo my dad got in the mail over half a century ago. We took it to a gallery owner in Santa Fe who put us in touch with the Sotheby’s Action House in New York where two months later it was sold for $650,000. We would live out our lives with less to worry about due in large part to that one afternoon… when Dad and I went riding with Ansel.

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