The Man with the Big Picture

Most of us know the name Ansel Adams. We may even be able to associate with his name some idea of his photography – outdoor stuff, wasn’t it? In fact, he was a master at landscape photography; his black and white images are elegant in their simplicity. His work is wonder dressed up in stark beauty.

As I have done before with Dr. Seuss and Norman Rockwell, I’d like to delve into his boyhood. What shaped young Ansel to be such an important creative figure?

One thing stands out: freedom.

When he was a little boy, his family lived in a house on the dunes near San Francisco. He lived his waking hours outside, first on the dunes, then exploring nearby Lobos Creek.

Then, at 13, Ansel received a strange and wonderful gift. His father gave him a one-year pass to an International Exposition in the city. That was to be his education for the coming year. He went there every day, performing at first on the piano, then attending lectures, viewing exhibits, getting to know the exhibitors. As he roamed the cavernous hall, he came across the work of the great photographer, Edward Weston. He also soaked into his mind the displays of impressionist art. Not long afterward, he began to express his own art, through outdoor photography.

In our day and age, it’s unfathomable that a young teen would be permitted play hooky for a year while roaming a major city’s exhibit. But there is a lesson in this for those of us who want to encourage our children’s creativity. We need to get them out. Out of their rooms, out of our houses, even our neighborhoods. Broaden their exposure to include nature. And equally as important, get them to rub shoulders with people who are skilled and passionate at their professions.

Adams once said, “Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter.”

Ironic, isn’t it? That perfect sense of timing came from a childhood of being off the clock.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter