Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man

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Few photographers have had more impact on America than Ansel Adams, and we are very excited to be able to celebrate his birthday with his former assistant, Andrea Stillman. Stillman takes an intimate look at the photographer and the man. Says one audience member at one of her museum lectures, “You made Ansel come to life for all of us.”

Here is what Stillman has to say about working with Adams: “I first met Ansel in 1972, when he came to New York to discuss an exhibition of his photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I worked. I was immediately impressed by his open, friendly demeanor, his sense of humor and his modesty. We worked together for two years on his retrospective, and after it opened in the spring of 1974, he asked me to move to Carmel and become his assistant. I leapt at the chance, and for the next six years I worked for Ansel in his home studio.

"He always had a photographic assistant to help in the darkroom, so I did everything else. This included managing the sale of hundreds of his photographs—everything from telling Ansel which negative to print to approving the final mounted photograph and writing the title on the back. I also edited his writing and lectures and worked with him on innumerable books of his photographs, selecting the images, assisting with the production and working on press to assure the best reproductions. I also accompanied him on many trips to open exhibitions and promote new books.

"One of my last tasks was to organize his extensive archive. It included an enormous correspondence with artists like Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Weston, and hundreds of his photographs made over more than fifty years, ranging from a unique 3-1⁄4 x 4-1⁄4-inch contact print of lodgepole pines in the High Sierra made when he was nineteen years old to an enormous 40 x 60 inch mural-size print of Mount McKinley made in the 1960s. In addition, I produced a one-hour documentary on his life for public television.”