Thirty-seven years ago today marks the end of my first week as Ansel’s full-time assistant. What a week! It started as I drove my car up a wooded road in Carmel, parked under the pines, and walked apprehensively up to the front door. My knock was greeted by a beaming smile and a “How ya doin’ man?” Pure Ansel!
My first assignment was to make some order out of the chaos of print boxes and equipment that were temporarily housed in the carport. Ansel had just had some major renovations done in his work room, and everything had been moved out of the way. What I noticed as I was sorting through prints was that Ansel had made quite a few very ordinary photographs. I was somewhat stunned to learn that he had no illusions and no expectations that every piece of 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 came as an incredible relief and released me from the burden of expecting myself to produce only perfection. Following Ansel’s model, it was better to experiment and try things that might work, and openly and simply respond to feelings, than to over-intellectualize when photographing. In fact, I soon learned that one of Ansel’s favorite phrases was, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Not a day goes by, even now, that I don’t hear him reminding me of this, and it’s something I try to emphasize with my students.