Ansel Adams Whispered in Her Ear

THUNDERHEADS, ANZA-BORREGO DESERT, CA, c 1965You don’t take a photograph, you make it. ~Ansel Adams

It was a Nikon, of that much I’m reasonably sure. She’d head off into the high desert with it. Hip-length raven hair trailing behind her like the tide. Camera hanging heavy on a strap around her neck. A talisman with shutter and lens. Off to the Joshua Trees where Ansel Adams whispered in her ear.

Hues of deepest black fading into soft greys, flowing in the developing fluid and exploding into cascades of brilliant white. She rarely shot in color. That film was more expensive and there were children to feed. Ansel’s whispers were most audible in black and white.

My mother made beds and dinners. And photographs.

Beautiful stories of the desert. Of cactus flowers, jack rabbits, and abandoned metate worn in the stone. Canteen and camera packed she’d abandon us to our father, her cares to the breeze.   Because, Ansel Adams whispered in her ear.

She made photographs. Made the desert come to life. Gave wordless voice to shifting sand and golden sun.

Then the water rose high. It surged like a tidal wave pulling the earth itself through windows and doors. Washing away what she’d made. The flood carried away the Nikon. Silenced his voice in her ear. 

My mother never made photographs like that again. Life flooded in. Her children grew. They needed more, insisted they needed her less. She gave all that was not asked for and more, never again opening the darkroom door.

Yet I still see them, the photographs she made. Not caked in mud or crumbling to dust, but through my own lens.

I may never make photographs, not like he or she did. But, I will settle for taking pictures because I always see something of her when I bring the camera to my eye. A wisp of ebony hair, a faint spark of crystalline blue like her eyes. My mom made me want to make photographs.

Maybe one day Ansel Adams will whisper to her again and she’ll take to the desert, the hills, the sea, camera in hand to make photographs. Maybe she’ll be content with the silence.

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.  ~Ansel Adams

Lead Image: Thunderheads, Anza-Borrego Desert, CA, c 1965 by Ansel Adams courtesy of Ansel Adams Museum Graphics. Please stop by and see this official collection started by Ansel and his wife, Virginia which is still run by their family.

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