“Yosemite might not exist if it weren’t for photography,” says Christine Loberg.
At the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village, I took a photography class with Christine who has lived just outside Yosemite National Park for the last twenty-five years and has worked as a photographer and park ranger for just about as long.
The three hour class begins with a walk to Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America that drops 2,425 feet. Along the way, we tour through terms, such as aperture, shutter speed, white balance, and ISO. Christine explains that photography is an art, but can also be documentation and political activism. For example, Ansel Adams — a once hyper-active child from a well-to-do family in San Francisco — began to photograph Yosemite in the 1930’s. He had visited Yosemite many times since his teenage years and felt disturbed by the commercial development he witnessed. Passionate about conservation, his photographs of the Sierra Nevada region played an important role in Congress’ decision to designate Sequoia and Kings Canyon as national parks in 1940.
While Ansel Adams is best known for his photographs of the West and, in particular, Yosemite, Christine explains that there were many other important photographers who came before him. Carleton Watkins, for example, moved to San Francisco during the Gold Rush. After he saw loggers and commercial interests destroying the region, Watkins began photographing Yosemite in the 1860’s. His photographs gave President Abraham Lincoln the evidence needed to sign a bill into law forbidding the destruction of the Sequoia Grove.
Watkins was also responsible for Congress’ decision to make Yosemite a national park in 1864. Unfortunately, this photographer went deeply into debt and he had to sell his pictures without getting credit in order to stay afloat. Then, when the San Francisco earthquake hit in 1906, all his photographs burned in the subsequent fire.
“There are no rules in photography, only guidelines,” Christine explains while we walked to Glacier Point. We learn about dark zones and light zones and also that Ansel Adams may have become famous out of sheer luck. If Watkins’ pictures had survived the San Francisco earthquake, we might just consider him the father of photography as well as the conservation movement. Still, Ansel Adam’s contributions can’t be dismissed. In the 1940’s he accepted many photographic assignments for the military, including taking pictures of secret Japanese installations in the Aleutians. He also went to Manzanar and took photographs of the Japanese-American Internment camp that shocked so many in the nation. Those pictures went on to feature in an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.
The class ends in “The Meadow” where Adams photographed his famous Moon Over Half Dome. Christine explains that the best time to shoot the full moon is five days before it’s full. On the day of the full moon, you should shoot only the moonlight. What makes Half Dome such a great rock to photograph is that the sheer rock (which is actually not “half”) faces east so the sun always rises on it. If the sun didn’t rise on it, it wouldn’t look nearly as impressive.
In this meadow overlooking Half Dome, a paved pedestrian road has V-roofed houses where the Head of the Consessionaire Delaware North lives along with many others. The community has a police & fire department, a U.S. District Court, medical services, and a school. Christine’s kids went there. One of her sons is about to graduate and the other joined the Navy — he’s now stationed in Hawaii. Christine along with an additional 1,000 park employees live just outside Yosemite and commute to work.
I ask Christine about who lives in Yosemite today. With over 3.5 million visitors every year, a large staff needs to preserve the park and provide basic services. She explains that about 1,000 people live in the park year round. They are mostly the upper management of the Consessionaire Delaware North, the company that currently runs all the hotels and food concessions in the park. (Privately owned companies put in government bids to get the contracts.) In addition, some rangers and law enforcement live here along with — Christine notes — the buffed, young, and good looking search-and-rescue men.
The class ends at the Ansel Adams Gallery, a tribute to the man, but also to the many other photographers past and present who have contributed to the preservation of Yosemite and cutting-edge photography. Classes are offered several times a week by dedicated photographers like Christine.
Thanks to the Ansel Adams Gallery and Christine Loberg for their hospitality.