“I was climbing the long ridge west of Mount Clark. It was one of those mornings where the sunlight is burnished with a keen wind and long feathers of cloud move in a lofty sky. The silver light turned every blade of grass and every particle of sand into a luminous metallic splendor; there was nothing, however small, that did not clash in the bright wind, that did not send arrows of light through the glassy air. I was suddenly arrested in the long crunching path up the ridge by an exceedingly pointed awareness of the light. The moment I paused, the full impact of the mood was upon me; I saw more clearly than I have ever seen before or since the minute detail of the grasses ...the small flotsam of the forest, the motion of the high clouds streaming above the peaks... I dreamed that for a moment time stood quietly, and the vision became but the shadow of an infinitely greater world -- and I had within the grasp of consciousness a transcendental experience.” Ansel Adams
Last night’s American Experience (PBS) film on Ansel Adams was a moving tribute to the man and his photography, a life’s retrospective. That he loved what he did is beyond question. His slavish dedication to his work meant days and nights on end in preparation for a show or to complete a body of photographs, hours and hours and hours in a darkroom.
Part of me envies that dedication—and I’m not alone, I’m sure. How many aspiring Ansel Adams take to the back roads of this country weekly, cameras in hand, like I do? Thousands. How many of those don’t wish they could simply walk away from their day jobs tomorrow and take up photography--or acting or writing books? Thousands. Me, among them. How many of us can those art forms support? Very, very few.
What Ansel Adams has left behind is unforgettable images of a stunning corner of this continent, awe-inspiring mountain vistas outfitted in a grand and personal vision that helps us even better visualize what that land—the Yosemite Valley—once looked like, pristine and virginal, a place we’ll never see again in quite the same way again.
To get those photographs, the man gave himself totally to his art. His wife gave birth to both his children, alone, Adams himself, their father, out pursuing his dreams in the Sierras. Nothing—not even God—was more important to him than chasing the vision he describes in the passage above. That he felt a sense of the transcendent doesn’t mean he was a believer.
I don’t know what to do with him finally. He was a genius, an artist; but he was driven, almost maniacal, his dedication obsessive. He made his work an idol.
I’m glad I’m not his or anyone else’s judge, but I hope there’s a place for him in glory. Few in this life loved creation as deeply as Ansel Adams or found the divine as palpably in the here-and-now. Besides, it would be great to learn a few things someday in the heavenly peaks.
This morning, I’m thankful for Ansel Adams, who helped us see the grandeur of God’s creation.
That’s not a bad life’s calling, or so it seems to me.