In Yosemite With Ansel Adams’ Worthy Successor

17 07 2017

 By Timothy D. Naegele[1]

My mother had a love of photography, and took endless photos with her Kodak Brownie camera. Years later, I picked up her love of the art form and began my life-long pursuit of photography. As a lawyer based in Washington, D.C., I called information for Carmel, California on a whim one day, seeking a listing for Ansel Adams, and wondering whether the master taught students or offered classes that I might attend. Lo and behold, his wife Virginia answered the phone, and was very nice, and directed me to one of his workshops.

The first one that I attended was in Yosemite, based at the Ansel Adams Gallery. I was one of about 30 students who had come from everywhere, to study with the master. Having grown up in Los Angeles (or Hollywood) and having worked in the U.S. Senate, I was not surprised that the great photographer was surrounded by sycophants, who basked in his shadow and glory, like those who follow movie stars, politicians and other celebrities worldwide. However, one assistant in particular stood out and his name was William Neill.[2]  He was humble and almost shy, but his photography was brilliant, and I bought a small photo from him that was a jewel, which he had taken at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona.

Ansel gave freely and generously of his time, and could not have been nicer to all of the students. In the back country one day, we were all taking photos, and I had my camera set up on a tripod and was seeking just the right shot, when the master came over and looked through my lens and said it was all wrong. He picked up my tripod and moved it, and selected a shot that was far better than mine. His brilliant eyes and brain knew intuitively what was best. He took us into his darkroom at the Gallery, which had been the Best’s Studio and owned by his wife’s family before they married. The whole weeklong workshop was everything that I could have hoped for, and I returned to Washington more excited about photography and Ansel than ever before.

I attended another workshop in Carmel; however, he was not in good health then. He hosted a reception at his home in the Carmel Highlands; and as always, he could not have been nicer and more gracious. After he died, I had lunch with Robert Baker who co-authored Ansel’s technical books, and learned that the two of them had been working on a book about color photography at the end of his life. Ansel had mastered black-and-white photography, but apparently he felt that he could not control the colors in the other medium. Thus, his book might have represented a milestone for photographers globally if it had been finished.

Fast forward to today, and I have a 13-year-old grandson who is an excellent photographer. His parents have encouraged him; and I decided that he too needed to learn at the feet of a master, Bill Neill. Thus, I contacted him, and we arranged for a private session at Yosemite. Anyone who has viewed Bill’s photos at his Web site, or seen them in galleries or published in books or magazines, realizes that they are exquisite and he is truly brilliant. My daughter, grandson and I traveled to Yosemite in early November 2016 for time with Bill, which could not have been more rewarding. Although we had not seen each other in years, he was just as nice and humble and generous with his time as I had remembered him. My daughter and I stood some distance from the two of them in fields and next to streams[3], while Bill imparted his photographic wisdom to the young lad.

Almost instantly, he was producing wonderful photos, which might compete with the best produced by many professional photographers worldwide. Bill has traveled the globe taking award-winning photos—in India, Antarctica, the Himalayas—however, like Ansel before him, he is probably best known for his photos that capture the very essence and beauty of Yosemite and nature. We had stopped at a meadow in the Yosemite Valley and cars pulled up shortly afterward, and out jumped a group of budding photographers who were attending a photographic workshop, and wanted to say hello to Bill and have a group photo taken with him. Of course he obliged, but still being shy and humble, he was a bit taken back at the idea of having become a celebrity himself.

While I have always loved Ansel’s photos and those of Mathew Brady taken during the American Civil War, I am more interested in color photography than black-and-white. Indeed, I concluded near the end of our time with Bill—and viewing photos at his Web site—that he had actually surpassed the great Ansel, and was his logical successor and photographic heir. He had mastered color photography. Also, he was using an Apple iPhone as a teaching device, and showing the young boy images as an instructional tool. Put succinctly, we were in the presence of a master, much like I felt many years before when I was with Ansel for the very first time.

There is something rare about such an experience. I have spent time with Academy Award-winning movie stars, lots of CEOs, famous politicians and billionaires, but our time with Bill was very special. I came away from the trip with a sense of awe, realizing how those who were in the presence of Leonardo da Vinci and other masters must have felt centuries ago. Bill was finishing a new book[4], which hopefully would embellish on and burnish his already-wonderful reputation, and gain new fans of his timeless photographic talents.

Sean and Bill-16-11-5

© 2016-2017, Timothy D. Naegele

_______________________________________________

[1] Timothy D. Naegele was counsel to the United States Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and chief of staff to Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal recipient and former U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-Mass). He and his firm, Timothy D. Naegele & Associates, specialize in Banking and Financial Institutions Law, Internet Law, Litigation and other matters (see www.naegele.com and http://www.naegele.com/documents/TimothyD.NaegeleResume.pdf). He has an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), as well as two law degrees from the School of Law (Boalt Hall), University of California, Berkeley, and from Georgetown University. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Army, assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon, where he received the Joint Service Commendation Medal (see, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commendation_Medal#Joint_Service). Mr. Naegele is an Independent politically; and he is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Law, and Who’s Who in Finance and Business. He has written extensively over the years (see, e.g., http://www.naegele.com/whats_new.html#articles), and can be contacted directly at tdnaegele.associates@gmail.com

[2]  See, e.g., williamneill.com; see also https://naegeleblog.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/ansel-adams-has-an-heir/ (“Ansel Adams Has An Heir”)

[3]  My daughter, who is a fine photographer too, took the photo of the two of them that accompanies this article.

[4]  See http://www.triplekite.co.uk/book-shop/william-neill-photographer-a-retrospective/


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2 responses

17 07 2017
Susan

This is your best post EVER!!!!

Liked by 1 person

17 07 2017
Timothy D. Naegele

Thank you, Susan. You are very kind!

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