Not Photographs, They Are Parmelian Prints

Is photography over? This is the question posed by a sold-out symposium at SFMoMA later in the month.
. Those who could not get tickets are voicing their opinions online, filling the listservs and blogs. It reminded me of Ansel Adams (1902-1984) and his first portfolio: Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras (San Francisco: J.C. Moore, 1927).

When Adams met arts patron Albert Bender (1866-1941) and accepted Bender’s help to publish a portfolio of photographs, he also accepted the suggestion to call them “parmelian prints” (a made-up word). Bender felt the label of “photographic prints” would not allow them to be taken seriously as fine art.

Bender immediately committed the money to purchase ten portfolios (priced at fifty dollars each). Then, he got on the phone and sold fifty-six others before lunch. Adams had not even begun working on the prints. Ultimately, Adams produced a set of eighteen photographs: gelatin silver prints printed on Kodak Vitava Athena Grade T Parchment. No matter what they were called, the prints were a spectacular success.

The colophon and folders for the portfolio were printed at Grabhorn Press, in Oakland, California. Princeton University’s copy was donated by Isabel Shaw Slocum as part of the Myles Standish Slocume, Class of 1909, Grabhorn Press Collection. It is personally inscribed to Mr. and Mrs. Slocum from Adams. (WA) Oversize F868.S5 A42q.