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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/4/15

A Letter from Ansel Adams - October 23, 1978

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Ansel Adams received a query on Arthur C. Pillsbury and responded to Rell Francis, a photo historian from Springville, Utah, on October 23, 1978 with this:

Arthur C. Pillsbury in his laboratory
Arthur C. Pillsbury in his laboratory
(Image by Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation)
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" Thank you very much indeed for your interesting letter of October 19 th . I knew Mr. Pillsbury very well indeed when he had his studio and shop in Yosemite where he had developed his time-lapse photography of flowers.

Mr. Pillsbury was an extraordinary man and I think his contributions to photography have been overlooked."

Ansel learned about wildflowers, and the need to preserve the natural world first from the motion pictures shown on the porch of the Pillsbury Studio. Help us ensure the films which moved Ansel Adams, produced by Arthur C. Pillsbury, survive.

Ansel Adams in Yosemite

Ansel was fourteen, about to turn fifteen years old. Ansel's parents had given him his first camera for their trip to Yosemite, a Kodak Box Brownie.

While taking his first roll of film Ansel fell off a rock and accidentally snapped a photo. He took the roll of film to the Pillsbury Studio in Old Village, to be developed. Ansel recounts the incident in his book, Ansel Adams, An Autobiography, with this explanation. " I remember that it was Pillsbury himself, who presented me with my developed film. He had not cut it apart, as he wanted to inquire how this picture had come to be upside down in reference to the others on the roll."

Grandfather was then giving workshops in photography at the Pillsbury Studio. The area inside the Studio was limited and related activities also took place outside, between the Studio and the Yosemite Chapel, immediately adjacent. Ansel sat, fascinated, as he listened to those lectures.

The Pillsbury Studio was a Nature Center. Tourists were stirred and inspired by Pillsbury's nature movies from the time he started showing them in 1909. Grandfather injected facts on the miracles of nature while entertaining tourists and instilling in them a desire to preserve these wonders. Photographs and film allowed Pillsbury to take the wilderness to people, instead of people trekking into areas which could be dangerous for them -- and for nature.

Yosemite Valley was the perfect meeting place for these two goals. It was Grandfather's work which inspired generations of film makers to do the same.

1916 was the year Grandfather produced a film for David Curry, the founder of Camp Curry. You can see part of the film, Seeing Yosemite with David A. Curry, which has been restored by the National Film Preservation Foundation. These films are part of our history as a people who love nature.

The same year, 1916, Pillsbury produced a movie titled, Legend of the Lost Arrow, featuring Don Tresidder as the Miwok hero. The film was made to restore the dignity of Yosemite's native people and awareness of their culture. Leroy Radonovich, for many years the photographer for Yosemite, now retired, says finding, and preserving that film has been a long time goal for many.

In 1917 Ansel returned to Yosemite with his family, again spending time at the Pillsbury Studio. The next year, 1918, he returned alone, photographing the wildflowers he had learned about at the Pillsbury Studio. His own photographs that year were heavily weighed toward flowers.

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Melinda Pillsbury-Foster is the author of GREED: The NeoConning of America and A Tour of Old Yosemite. The former is a novel about the lives of the NeoCons with a strong autobiographical component. The latter is a non-fiction book about her father (more...)
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