Minneapois Institute of Arts
New Pictures at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Ansel Adams Meets Doris Ulmann and Her “Flimsy Tripod”

Posted Dec 28, 2011

In the spring of1933, Ansel Adams traveled from Santa Fe, New Mexico to the east coast to visit New York City for the first time in his life. In a series of interviews conducted by The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, Adams recounts a number of important meetings with leading art figures, such as photography impresario Alfred Stieglitz, painters Marsden Hartley and John Marin and critic Paul Rosenberg. One of his most memorable and humorous is with documentary photographer, Doris Ulmann, whose photograph “Two Men at Work (c. 1916-1925) is in the MIA’s collection. http://www.artsconnected.org/resource/10965/two-men-at-work

“She was the one that did a lot of photography in Appalachia and of the Negroes in the South. A very wealthy woman with an old Mercedes car and a German chauffeur. Took pictures of everybody who came to see her. Had this great eight by ten camera and a flimsy tripod. And while her exposure of me was going on, I could see the camera swaying [Laughter] So, I said, “You know, Doris, really, your tripod’s terrible.” [She said,] “You know, I just can’t get sharp pictures. I thought it was the lens.” I said, “It’s the tripod.” [She said,] “Well, will you help pick one out?” So the next day I was picked up in the car and we went down to Willoughby’s and all the other big photography stores; finally got her a tripod that would hold her eight by ten monstrosity up. And then she’d go to the lens cases in the store and said, “ I want that one and that one and that one.” God knows how many lenses that woman had. She just would buy lenses like Virginia [Adams’ wife] would buy, “Cool and Creamy” at the Safeway. [Laughter] But she had a very fine feeling and did many fine things. She had book[s] publish.  We have several [of her] books.