CLICK! Jim releases the shutter and looks up. The sharp peaks of the Minarets are peering down on Ediza Lake, silver-gray against a sky ruffled with storm clouds: another scene that Ansel Adams photographed. In fact, it’s difficult to go anywhere in the Sierra and not be near the scene of one of the more than 40,000 negatives he created during his long career, photographs that link him forever with the Sierra. “Dear Mr. Adams,” a woman once wrote him in a letter, “In writing to you I almost feel that I am writing to…Yosemite Valley itself.”
For more than 40 years, Adams sat on the board of the Sierra Club and spoke out in support of national parks and protection of wild places. They had been his art, his love, and his life.
When Ansel Adams died in 1984 at the age of 82, he returned to the mountains one last time. His son Michael scattered the photographer’s ashes from the summit of an 11,760-foot peak near the southeastern boundary of Yosemite National Park, a peak later renamed Mt. Ansel Adams, in a wilderness area later renamed the Ansel Adams Wilderness.
Yet the greatest legacy of the famous photographer lies not in renaming mountains or wilderness areas, but in the inspiration his relentless pursuit of beauty has been to a whole new generation of wilderness photographers.
“I’d like to think I put a lot of my own personal vision into my photography,” says Jim, who was honored by the Sierra Club with the 1998 Ansel Adams Award for his own work. “But there is no doubting the influence Ansel Adams had on photography as an art form. Anyone working in photography today has been, at least in part, influenced by what he accomplished.”
“So, then,” I say as Jim and I hike along Shadow Creek back toward the trailhead, “Ansel Adams inspired so many photographers today that it’s almost as if every time you hear the click of a shutter in the backcountry, it’s a kind of tribute to him.”
Jim looks at me and smiles. He reaches for his camera.