It wasn't until I had finished college at Indiana University six years later that I picked up a camera again. I bought a Canon AE-1, a Vivitar 70-200mm macro lens and The Amateur Photographer's Handbook to take on my first trip to Alaska in the summer of 1974. I read the book from cover-to-cover, and shot Kodachrome slides all the way up and down the Alaska Highway, of mountains, sheep, moose, autumn colors, goats, rivers, the ocean. A few of those shots were actually good, and after landing a teaching job to Kenai in 1975, I decided to try to sell a few at the local arts and craft fair held after Thanksgiving in the mall.
I was sitting in the booth on the main floor of the mall, and every few minutes a flash would fire inside the store just behind me. When I took a break later that afternoon, I wandered in and met Roy Mullin, the owner of a new photo studio in town, Visual Sensitivity Unlimited. It wasn't long before we were the best of friends, taking pictures out in the woods together, telling stories, making new ones together to tell, and generally having fun with each other. We were the same age, loved the Beatles and rock & roll, though, apologies to Roy, I could never get into Frank Zappa like he did. But we certainly could have fun, and when we worked out a deal where he trained me in black-and-white darkroom work, I was in heaven. A very dust-spot-ridden heaven much to Roy's dismay, but heaven to me.
This was in ancient B.I. America...Before Internet. When Roy suggested we write away for applications to the Ansel Adams workshop in Yosemite for the summer of 1979, I jumped at the chance. I was still shooting mostly color slide film, but was intensely interested in fine art black-and-white. I used to drive Roy crazy by shooting four or five rolls of film on a trip with him, but waiting two or three or sometimes six months before sending it off to be developed. He got his revenge on me when I sent in my application to the workshop and he didn't. And I got accepted.
June of 1979 found my wife Veronica and I in the Weston Gallery in Carmel, California a week before the workshop, looking at galley proofs of Ansel's newest book, Yosemite and the Range of Light, straight from the publisher. They were holding it for Ansel to come approve the photographs printed within. As we stood pouring over the proofs (the curator let us look at them once he heard I was attending the workshop), we were speechless at the richness and beauty of the images on the pages - until we would see one that was hanging as a silver print that Ansel himself had printed, on the wall behind us. When we would turn and look - comparing the ink on paper to the actual print, we were floored. Beside the print, the images we had seconds ago thought were so fantastic faded into just pale representations of the reality.
If you have never seen an Ansel Adams print in real life and you are interested in photography at all, get yourself to a gallery or attend an exhibition of his work. It is monumental. I have never felt - before or since - that I could literally walk into a black-and-white landscape like I did gazing at those marvelous prints. I could sense the air in the scene, and felt like if I had a mind to, I could just go for a stroll within the image. Needless to say, I was transported. And also a little bit intimidated. What was I, an imposter posing as a photographer, thinking? After a long talk, Veronica reminded me that I wasn't expected to be proficient - I was a student, and I was going there to learn.
And learn I did. A week later I was surrounded by not one, but several masters of the craft. 60 students arrived not knowing what to expect. I don't know how many of us were transformed by the week we spent there, but I know I was. I came home changed. More on what happened at the workshop that stirred me up and remade me next time. Thanks for stopping by, and if you like this stuff, please let me know. Writing a blog is sometimes like yelling into the wind. You never really know if you are heard.