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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    John Shaefer remembers Ansel Adams

    Photograph by Ansel Adams. Moonrise
    Photograph by Ansel Adams. Moonrise

    John Schaefer, UA president emeritus and chairman of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, will come to the Center for Creative Photography on Thursday to discuss his special relationship with friend and famed photographer Ansel Adams, whose archives reside on the UA campus.

    The center doubles as an library and a research center and boasts more than 50 photo archives, including the works of Edward Weston, Garry Winogrand and Harry Callahan.

    The Arizona Daily Wildcat sat down with Schaefer in his office in Steward Observatory to discuss how a chemist became a university president, how his hobby of photography evolved into one of the only art centers of its kind and a close friendship with an acclaimed artist.

    Daily Wildcat: How did you get started in photography?

    John Schaefer: I’ve always liked photography. My parents are both immigrants — my father came from a family of 10 and my mother had two siblings, and they both came from Germany.

    The only way I got to know my relatives there was through pictures they sent. That’s what started me realizing the power of images.

    When I graduated from college, my parents got me a camera — a nice camera — and that’s how I got started. I took a class at the Tucson Museum of Art and got caught up in photography as a fine art form.

    DW: How did the Center for Creative Photography come about?

    Schaefer: I’m a firm believer in libraries. One of the measures of a great university is the quality of its library.

    Photography is really the literature of our times. In the 19th century, people kept diaries. In the 20th century, people kept photo albums.

    I begun thinking about the role of photography in our society. The war in Vietnam ended because of photography. The role of Mathew Brady in the Civil War. People like Lewis Hine, who took photos of 8-year-olds in factories working eight hours a day.

    It turned out that no universities were collecting photos in a serious way, documenting what life was about, and although it was invented in England, Americans really became the great practitioners of photography as an art form.

    I wrote to Ansel Adams to do a one-man show. and ultimately the Center for Creative Photography came out.

    DW: So, how do you go up to someone like Ansel Adams and say, “”Can I have your archives?””

    Schaefer: I was 36 when I became president of the university, and 10 minutes in the show I asked him much like that, “”Would you like to give your archives to the University of Arizona?”” And he said, “”Well, (the University of California) Berkeley thinks they are going to get my archives, but they are just going to bury them in the bottom of the Bancroft Library, so if you want to do something broader than that, then I’ll be willing to talk with you.””

    I went up to his home, and about a month later, the idea for the Center for Creative Photography arose with him and four other photographers.

    DW: Any photographs in the Center that struck you instantly?

    Schaefer: “”Moonrise,”” one of Ansel’s photographs. But there are just a lot of great black and white images.

    DW: How did the event on Jan. 20 come about?

    Schaefer: Becky (Senf, Norton Family Assistant Curator of Photography) said she’s got a bunch of questions to ask. She doesn’t want me to know what they are because she wants it to be spontaneous. It’s going to just be a conversation.

    DW: Do you have any special memories of Ansel Adams in particular?

    Schaefer: More of an overall impression. He was just a wonderful, kind person who genuinely cared about a lot of people and a lot of things.

    He became the voice of the wilderness for a lot of people. He was one of the driving forces behind the conservation movement.

    DW: What do you feel the Center for Creative Photography brings to the UA?

    Schaefer: It is one of the great, internationally recognized photography museums in the world, and I consider it one of the four or five most important things I did as president.

    I just hope that students take some time and go over there. It’s a part of what the UA is all about — changing their lives and giving them a new dimension.

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