Michael Adams showing us Ansel’s enlarger

For our next segment of PhotoCycle, we stopped by Ansel Adams’ home to get a tour from his son Michael. As Scoble put it “it’s like being in a cathedral” — we were surrounded by Ansel’s work on the one hand and on the other his actual workspace—his darkroom and workroom where he printed and finished his work.

For me this was a very personal experience, Ansel has been an inspiration and teacher for me most of my life. My mom read me his biography The Eloquent Light, later she introduced him to me when he came to my grade school for a show. I avidly read his Basic Photo Series in my teens and charged into my own darkroom to put my new found knowledge to use. So to be in his home that emanated his passion for making photographs was quite moving.

We toured through Ansel’s living room-gallery and Michel told us stories behind Moon over Hernandez and his shot of Half Dome in 1927, which he sites as his first visualized photograph—a signal moment in photography.

We went onto his darkroom and had a look at his 8×10 horizontal enlarger that runs on railroad tracks! This machine was engineered by him so that he could make enormous prints. It has a feature I’ve never seen before: He could control the lights on the enlarger to create more or less light projected from individual parts of the negative itself.

After Michael gave us an overview, I asked Frederick Johnson from Adobe to join us and discuss how the analog world of photography had made it into the digital realm, such as PhotoShop. This was pretty surreal: Representatives of both of these worlds discussing the meeting of the medium in our present day digital age.

My passion with this show is to put our viewers in touch with the masters of photography, to learn from them so that they can better their own craft. Proof of concept: My friend Helen, who is a neighbor of the Adams’ and I had invited to join us for the shoot told me later that she had a major realization while hearing the description of the enlarger: She saw for the first time the art of how the photograph was created by Ansel, taking his vision and projecting it into the print that he wanted. In this moment she saw clearly how photography is an art form not just a reproduction of the scene.

Her realization is exactly what occurred to Ansel when he first discovered that he didn’t have to follow the rules of pictorial or snapshot photography, but could visualize and show others his vision in the final print. Ansel with Edward Weston (whose home we’ll be visiting next) and others were responsible for getting photography recognized as an art form, something we tend to take for granted today.

What I found fascinating about her spark of realization was—this is precisely what I hoped my viewers come to realize…this is my passion with the show: to tell the story and to broaden awareness of the field. Results? Deeper understating and better resulting photographs.

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