Ansel Adams' Student Photo Call

Ansel Adams' Student Photo Call

(c) Theater Times - November 14, 2015
by Cristofer Gross with Robert Cohen

ANSEL ADAMS' STUDENT PHOTO CALL
A surprising photo credit for a college rehearsal shot sparks inquiry
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Walking into UC Irvine’s main library in 2008, I stopped before a poster bearing a remarkable photograph. The rich-toned black-and-white image showed a group of ‘60s vintage actors in an ethereal outdoor rehearsal under the watchful eye of a young Robert Cohen, who was then UCI’s Claire Trevor Professor of Drama and the subject of Stage to Stage, a retrospective of his theatrical work. It was the photo credit that caused me to shake my head in wonder: Ansel Adams. Having known Robert for years, I shot off a quick email to ask for the story.

It was winter 1967, wrote back Robert, who retired from UCI in 2015. Ansel had been commissioned to do a book of photographs of all nine University of California campuses, three of which (Irvine, Santa Cruz and San Diego) had begun operations the year before. Irvine was one of the first campuses he went to, probably because it was small and easy to get a handle on. All five of the original buildings, arranged in a semi-circle, had been designed by the architect William Pereira and what is now Aldrich Park was basically rocks, paths and saplings. Not exactly the sort of subject matter for which Ansel was already famous.

He had asked to begin his shoot with the Fine Arts (as our school was then named), and a request for a volunteer from the arts faculty (then only about eight or nine members) had been submitted. At the time, photography was not considered a Fine Art at our school. As my then-wife was a photographer, and I was a longtime lover of Yosemite National Park, I was well aware of Ansel’s work and considered him and Edward Weston geniuses of the art. So, I invited him to shoot my rehearsal of Oedipus Tyrannos which, on the following day, was being held on a rock outcropping in the center of the campus (now Aldrich) park.

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