“Our lives at times seem a study in contrast … love & hate, birth & death, right & wrong … everything seen in absolutes of black & white. Too often we are not aware that it is the shades of grey that add depth & meaning to the starkness of those extremes.” – Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams (1902-1984) went to Yosemite National Park at 14 years old, where his parents gave him an Eastman Kodak No. 1 Brownie box camera. His love affair with his camera, as well as his father’s encouragement to live a "Ralph Waldo Emerson" life guided by a social responsibility to humans and nature, led to his advocacy for environmental conservation.
As a youngster, Adams was dismissed from several private schools for being restless and inattentive. I can relate to being a poor fit for public education and am still amazed that I was able to survive high school and, thanks to Most Beautiful One (MBO), eventually graduate college.
Countless people have been able to experience the majesty of nature because of Adams’ patience and expertise with a camera. One biographer called “Monolith” Adams’ most significant photograph because the “extreme manipulation of tonal values” was a departure from all previous photography.
Unaware of “tonal values,” I always thought of Adams as someone who saw the world in black and white. It didn’t occur to me until I started taking photos myself that he was in actuality a purveyor of the infinite shades of gray and the broad spectrum of light. This realization has driven some interesting observations about my own life.
One of MBO’s and my favorite places is Yosemite where Adams took many of his most notable photos. We first went there as teenagers in 1969 when we ran away from home together. We stayed there in a hippie campsite for a few weeks until hundreds of Hells Angels biked in, at which point we quickly (and wisely) departed. It was a much different (and saner) experience visiting there with our children many years later!
“I am very cautious of people who are absolutely right, especially when they are vehemently so.” ― Michael Palin of Monty Python
Adams contracted the 1918 Spanish Flu and needed several weeks to recuperate. Being home during this current pandemic has caused me to further reflect on the significance of black and white and right and wrong. As a former executive coach, I had to train myself to be a good listener. But, even now, I have a tendency to internally cling to what I believe to be “right,” even when I appear to be listening. This applies to world issues as well as the most trivial matters. It’s difficult to have an open dialogue when I’ve already made up my mind!
Speaking of black and white, MBO’s and my views are not always the same. Instead of black or white, the “truth,” if there is one, often lies somewhere in between. By understanding this, we have learned to (eventually) appreciate each other’s perspective which, of course, has resulted in more harmony. Imagine what could be accomplished if politicians did the same.
Stay safe out there!