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In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams


By Anne Pautler

Published Jan 1, 2014 8:00 AM

Decades ago, the legendary photographer trained his camera's eye on the University of California campuses and took hundreds of shots of UCLA. Much has changed since then — and much has not.


Ansel Adams preparing to take a photo.

Fifty years ago, a bearded man with a Hasselblad stood on UCLA’s North Campus, his camera pointed at the new sculpture garden and the unfinished arts building. Born in San Francisco and famous for his dramatic images of Yosemite, Ansel Adams was the natural choice for “Fiat Lux,” an ambitious project to chronicle the University of California system in photos.

He didn’t stay at UCLA very long. “I found that working in a certain campus, in four or five days I was through for the time. I just couldn't ‘see’ anymore,” Adams told an interviewer. Instead, he “pogo-sticked” (his words) all over the state for four years.

In the end, Adams cataloged more than 200 negatives of UCLA dated between 1964 and 1967, with the bulk of the work in fall 1966. Most of the time he worked alone, relying on natural light and spending a lot of time on hillsides and tops of buildings.

California native Kevin Cooley also likes to work solo and takes rooftops in stride. He was fascinated to see architectural shots by Adams, instead of the more familiar nature photos. And Cooley enjoyed searching for Adams’ vantage points. All over campus he found people eager to help — intrigued by Adams’ images and interested to see how much the surroundings had changed.

Today, the buildings Adams chose to shoot may seem an odd selection. But he visited the campus in a time of phenomenal growth: During the four years of “Fiat Lux,” enrollment grew from about 20,000 to almost 27,000. So Adams focused on the new buildings sprouting everywhere, especially on North Campus, where Chancellor Franklin Murphy had just begun the outdoor sculpture collection that bears his name.

The rest, as they say, is history.



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