Alan and Ansel at a Yosemite workshop. Photo courtesy of Frank Niemeir

I think Ansel was probably one of the most even-tempered people I have ever met. Though always a hard worker he was also a jokester at heart.

He knew he had become an important figure in environmental and photographic causes, and he constantly put this stature to good use. Very often, by the time I got to work at 9am, he might already have written three letters to senators or congressmen, made phone calls to his publisher, business manager and Polaroid, clacked-out a couple of pages of memos on his typewriter AND got a new negative set up in the darkroom.

Always intertwined with the work was his sense of mirth – terrible jokes and puns, often told for the sixth or seventh time, which never failed to give rise to his own infectious and mountainous laugh, eliciting groans and grins from all within range.

I don’t believe I ever saw him gloomy or morose, and the rare instances of anger were matters of principle – personal integrity, the environment and politics. He took himself and his work seriously but had, and never lost, an ability to laugh at himself. What a wonderful man to be around – never a dull moment, never a gloomy day.

When I first went to work as Ansel’s assistant, one of the things that struck me the most was the realization, while going through boxes and boxes of his work, that he had made an awful lot of very ordinary photographs! I was somewhat stunned to learn that he had no illusions and no expectations that every film he exposed would wind up being another one of what he fondly called his “Mona Lisas.”

As an awe-struck young photographer in the presence of The Master, this revelation was an incredible relief to me; it came as a release from the burden of expecting myself to produce only perfection. It was better to experiment and try things that might work, and openly and simply respond to feelings than to over intellectualize. In fact I soon came to learn that one of Ansel’s favorite phrases was “The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good!”

Ansel never forgot how to have a bit of fun!

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