Volume II, Issue 1: September 2009

In Ansel Adams' footsteps

by Kathryn Bold, University Communications

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Re-creating the master's 1960s-era photos of UCI: a then-and-now campus slide show and story. To see the before-and-after pictures, select the photo, then click on "Go to (year)."

When most people think of Ansel Adams, black-and-white images of Yosemite National Park and the American West come to mind; they don't typically envision UC Irvine.

Yet in the mid-1960s, Adams did photograph UCI, along with the other University of California campuses, to commemorate the UC's 1968 centennial. Adams took 1,761 photos for the project, including more than 100 of the new Irvine campus. Select images were reproduced in a book called Fiat Lux, and the collection now resides at UC Riverside's California Museum of Photography. Recently, student and staff photographers from University Communications at UCI decided to walk in Adams' footsteps — and re-create his images from the same spots where the master once stood.

It wasn't easy.

Adams shot the campus using large- and medium-format film cameras, like the 4-by-5-inch film camera in the first image of the slide show. The UCI team had modern (and comparatively lightweight) digital, single-lens reflex cameras at their disposal, but the campus has changed dramatically in the past four decades, making it impossible to reproduce many images.

Today there are trees — lots of them. Mere sprouts in Adams' day, they now block several scenes he photographed. New buildings and renovations have also thwarted certain views.

Capturing the light — as Adams did so artistically — proved difficult as well. The UCI team worked under the high summer sun, and Adams shot the campus during winter, when the sun is low in the sky, creating different shadows.

Still, the photos in this slide show — produced by Daniel A. Anderson, UCI director of visual communications, and undergraduates Hoang Xuan Pham and Michelle S. Kim — were never meant to duplicate Adams' work. They're simply a tribute to his spirit, a challenging exercise in photography and a fun way to see how the campus has evolved over the years. Check the locations — perhaps you too will be inspired to get your camera and follow in Adams' footsteps.