February 20th is Ansel Adams' Birthday...
Many of you may know that I had the rare privilege to study under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when I was just 19 years old. And as the years go by, I appreciate that experience more and more. I had been working with black and white film for a solid decade before I began working with Adam's Zone System, and I would spend another two decades continuing to work in black and white and hone my craft.
Photographing Yosemite National Park with Ansel Adams...sure wish I had thought about taking a selfie back in 1979!
Yosemite National Park is an amazing "classroom" and we spent time photographing the Valley, the Merced River, as well as up in the high country. But as much as the instruction, I remember some of the social time we had in the evenings, including cocktails with Ansel and his wife Virginia. I was 19 and they were in their late 70s and it was markedly clear that they were from a different era. Over the years, I've read most of what Ansel published, as well as what has been written about him. What an amazing life to have traveled this country -- and particularly to our National Parks, without dealing with the crowds and restrictions that are in place today.
At 19, I was pretty awestruck in his presence. I remember scraping together the last bit of cash I had for the summer -- just enough to buy two of his books at the bookstore in Yosemite -- The Negative and The Print seemed like the obvious choices. And then, in a bit more brazened move, I asked him to autograph them! Honestly, to this day, I can't think of anything more cherished.
The National Park Poster Project have given me an opportunity share these incredible places -- many of which Ansel Adams visited and photographed -- with people from all over the world. And, I hope in some small way, helps to create the next generation of National Park supporters. It also provides me with a way to give back, and in the last year, I made financial contributions to the National Parks Conservation Association, the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Yosemite Conservancy, the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, the Western National Parks Association, Yellowstone Forever, Zion National Park Forever Project, the Grand Canyon Conservancy, and the Grand Teton Association.
Ansel Adams, who in addition to being an amazing photographer -- was also an environmentalist who was realistic about development and the subsequent loss of habitat. Adams advocated for balanced growth, but was pained by the ravages of "progress". In his autobiography, he stated that, "We all know the tragedy of the dustbowls, the cruel unforgivable erosions of the soil, the depletion of fish or game, and the shrinking of the noble forests. And we know that such catastrophes shrivel the spirit of the people... The wilderness is pushed back, man is everywhere. Solitude, so vital to the individual man, is almost nowhere."
Ansel Adams first visited Yosemite National Park in 1916...it would be another 50 years before my first visit...the first of many. Today, it remains one of my most favorite National Parks, not just for the awe-inspiring beauty that is Yosemite, but also for the memories of camping with my family, backpacking the high country with friends, and of course, the summer of 1979 studying under one of the true masters!
Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for America's National Parks. Now he's on a journey to visit, photograph and create iconic WPA-style artwork for each of America's national parks. Click here to learn more about him.