The real Ansel Adams

Alan Ross, who knew the genius and wicked humor of the famed photographer and environmentalist, exhibits work at Laguna gallery.

November 29, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Alan Ross, left, and gallery owner and operator Ludo Leideritz at the opening reception for the "Alan Ross: The Ansel Adams Legacy" show at the Forest and Ocean Gallery. The show features prints by Alan Ross and Ansel Adams.
Alan Ross, left, and gallery owner and operator Ludo Leideritz… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

One of Ansel Adams' pet peeves was when Alan Ross would forget to turn off a battery-powered digital thermometer in the dark room.

He communicated his displeasure about the batteries wearing out by leaving notes that read, "You left the thermometer on all night (sniff!!)" and "Naughty boy!!!!!! You didn't turn the [expletive] thermometer off!!!!" Since Ross wasn't accustomed to using a thermometer that needed turning off, he forgot — a lot.

When Ross followed through, though, Adams scribbled, "Dear Alan, I am peeved!! Disappointed, discouraged!!!! You did NOT forget to turn off the thermometer and I have nothing to gripe about! What is life without a gripe? Desolate, flat, etc. ..."

These missives, exhibited at the Forest and Ocean Gallery along with candid shots of Adams dressed as Moses and another in which he is clowning around with a dark cloth, showcase the photographer and environmentalist's gregarious nature. Titled "Alan Ross: The Ansel Adams Legacy," the show features 11 black-and-white landscape images from the 26-piece collection "Yosemite Special Edition." The pieces cost $300 when unframed and $395 with frames.


The airy venue, bathed in natural light, also houses images that Ross captured across the West Coast, in particular at Yosemite National Park and East Sierra and Death valleys, during his five-year tenure as Adams' assistant. These limited-edition creations range from $600 to $12,000.

"We are trying to show what Ansel Adams was like as a human being, not just as a man behind the camera taking beautiful pictures," said gallery owner Ludo Leideritz. "During the reception, Alan's presentation [touched on] Ansel's sense of humor — which a lot of people never really got to know — and the fact that he was a clown. He would dress in costume just to give a shock effect. He wanted people to be comfortable around him ... there was no snobbishness or puffery. And he was extremely dedicated to his craft."

Leideritz, a fellow photographer who has converted his Rancho Santa Margarita home's three-car garage into a studio and dark room, met Ross six years ago at a workshop. Since then, the two have collaborated regularly and become close friends, as have their wives.

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