victor parker photography | Meeting Ansel Adams

Meeting Ansel Adams by Victor Parker


I met Ansel Adams before he was famous in 1955 on the Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park. I was a young boy of eleven years full of curiosity about everything mother earth. I was visiting Yosemite with my family for the first time . We were driving up to Glacier Point when we stopped and hiked up to the top of Sentinel Dome.

Over there was a man with his head hiding under a cover looking through a big box on legs. When I walked up to him he took his head out and I remember seeing the most kind face with big eyes.

He said, " Hello". I asked him "What is in that box?" He replied that it was a camera. Then he pulled a big square thing out of the back of the camera and told me that was a negative and explained what a negative was. Then he put in another one.

I said, "Can I look through it and see what it looks like?" He said "Yes, you can. Here, let me hold you up." My mother and father were minding after my little sisters Diana and Linda and paid little attention to me.

The man with the big eyes held me up to look into the big box on legs and put the cover over my head. I saw Half Dome. It was upside down. I asked him why it was upside down. He took something out and asked if I could see that little bright hole in the front. I said yes I could.

He said that it was where the light came into the box and hit the big negative in the back. "Light travels in a straight line so the light from the top of Half Dome travels through the opening you saw and hits the bottom of the film negative and the light from the bottom of Half Dome travels through the opening and hits the top. Does that make sense to you?" I said, "Yes."

He then picked up the tripod and moved it toward another direction. I asked him, “why did you do that?” He said that he wanted to take a picture of that scraggly, little old tree. I asked him why? He said because he liked it and found it interesting because of its shape. I remember sitting in that tree but I can’t remember if he took a picture of me. I kind of think he might have. It would be interesting to know if there was an Ansel Adams negative of the tree on Sentinel Dome with a young boy sitting in it. (The tree died in the 1970’s because of drought and also because many visitors carved their names into it.)

So went, I realized many years later, my first lesson in photography. I went away wondering how he carried that big camera clear up to the top of Sentinel Dome. I also wondered how I could  ever get a camera like that or if I ever would. That Christmas I pleaded with Santa to bring me a camera. My parents gave me my first camera. It was a Kodak Brownie and so began my picture taking.

Years later, in the fall 1974, I became a charter student at the International Center of Photography in New York City. I began studying with the great photographers of the day. Several weeks later my first published picture appeared in the New York Times. It was a large almost 8" by 10" photo of Death in Venice for the Metropolitan Opera. Later on I would work for the Museum of Modern Art and other great institutions.

In 1980 I was selling photographs as a starving street artist on 5th Avenue in New York City on the steps of St. Thomas Church at 53rd St. A film company asked if they could film me. The next day Lord Snowdon appeared and interviewed me on film. The production was for the BBC and was called "Snowdon on Camera". After the filming and interview Snowdon told me that the next day he was going to Carmel, CA to interview Ansel Adams. Months later my friend in England, Sir Peter Pears, wrote to me to tell me he had seen me on the BBC.

Thus, 25 years after I first met him, we were ‘meeting’ again. This time appearing in the same documentary on photography on the BBC. I never met Ansel Adams in the flesh again after 1955.