Ansel Adams ‘Aspens’ gleam.
Ansel Adams ‘Aspens’ gleam. (Ansel Adams / Courtesy of Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust)

Imagine two photographers seeing the same city, one as a native and one as a newcomer. I've just returned from San Francisco, from a week visiting my sister and her partner, and today I walked back into the West Coast -- in own my New England town. I came to the Berkshire Museum to see a new pair of exhibits: "Ansel Adams: Masterworks" and "Nature Magnified: Photographs by Andreas Feininger." The shows set up a silent conversation. And now I'm imagining what these two artists, who came of photographic age in the 1930s on opposite coasts, would say to each other.

If Anreas Feininger and Ansel Adams could walk through Adams' native city today, what would they see? Imagine it ...

Dear Andreas,

I have opened your letter this morning at the lodge. Two scrub jays concatenating piñon nuts woke me early, and I came out. The rock wall beside me is still wet with a pre-dawn rain.

The sun has slid over the ridge to reach this side of the valley, and I can hold your print in full eastern light to tempt me to run a finger down the coppery neck of this horse head on the ballustrade. Do you tell me you saw this on Oak Street? I will not calculate how many times I must have passed this same stair, and that same rust-bodied Ford pickup. You have the focus for a human scale.

My eye grows clearer at higher elevations, along with the air. Have you ever had an egg new-laid that morning and compared its flavor to the usual jumble of the market? So I find the air here, so keen that I feel I have forgotten what the real thing tastes like.


Advertisement

On the heights I breathe the way a man drinks whiskey.

I've been in the Minarets with a hiking party and am just now within letter range. You'll forgive me, I hope, for missing your earlier note to tell me of your visit. Stay until the weekend if you can, and I will find you when four wheels can make the trip. I've business with Ed at the gallery. Until then, I commend you to the Berkeley Bowl. Even your beloved East Side barrows have not so many families of tangelos and eggplants and fingerling squashes.

Yours,

Ansel

Adams died in 1984 an Feininger in 1999; though Adams once printed Feininger's freelance photographs in U.S. Camera magazine, and Feininger traveled to San Francisco at least once, I don't know that they ever met. I offer this wholly fictional correspondence, as the museum offers the shows, in tribute to both men.

For more letters, visit www.berkshireeagle.com/
bytheway.