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I previously posted that I may want to read the article [from Resource Library] onYosemite 1938: On the Trail with Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe and am doing so now. It’s based on wall texts from an exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art in 2006.

Adams, O’Keeffe, McAlpin, and the Rockefellers departed for the High Sierra on Sunday, September 11, 1938. With them went a pack-string of fourteen mules, enough animal power to haul all the camping, kitchen, and photo equipment, with a few extra mounts for those who wished to ride. The ten-day trip through the high country was not particularly arduous, outfitted as they were with plenty of blankets, food, and hired help.

Lyell Peaks, c. 1938, Ansel Adams

Lyell Peaks, c. 1938, Ansel Adams

Adams planned the expedition to Yosemite for patrons David McAlpin and his cousins, Godfrey and Helen Rockefeller. They were all friends, knowing  each other because David and Godfrey were important photography collectors as well as amateur photographers.

McAlpin and Roosevelt purchased special cameras for the trip. Rockefeller worked with large-format cameras and film using 8 x 10-inch negatives. He relied on Adams for technical assistance.

Water Over Rock, c. 1938, Ansel Adams

Water Over Rock, c. 1938, Ansel Adams

O’Keeffe didn’t bring her painting equipment (probably because it would have been an annoyance), much to Adams disappointment. She enjoyed her experience as an observer. Since she didn’t paint anything during the trip I’ll save her work  for another post. 

Adams and O’Keeffe first met in 1929 at an artists’ retreat outside of Taos, New Mexico. According to the wall text, she was pretty well-connected to important people in the photographic world. I’m not sure if that means anything other than artistic celebrity.

Separate commemorative albums were crafted by Adams; McAlpin’s album was on view at the Carnegie. The following passage is a wistfully nostalgic synopsis of the display organized by the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

Georgia O'Keeffe and Tree c. 1938, Ansel Adams

Georgia O’Keeffe and Tree c. 1938, Ansel Adams

YOSEMITE 1938, the album and the trip, tell a number of important stories about Ansel Adams and his relationships with friends, patrons, artists, and nature.

The photographs show us many of Adams’s favorite spots in the Sierra, from the Tuolumne Meadows and the Cathedral Peak region to his beloved Lyell Fork of the Merced River. 

He hoped that the restorative and spiritual power of Yosemite would affect his companions the way it had affected him.

We will never know the conversations that happened around the campfire or be able to recreate the feeling of looking at Half Dome for the first time with Adams at our side, but we can experience the pleasure of looking through this album, a remarkable record of a singular journey through the Sierra with one of its greatest proponents.


NOTE: These photographs were not shot with the truly superior quality of Polaroid film as Edwin Land had yet to invent it.