Curator’s Introduction – Charles Cramer
Today, looking out at russet oak leaves drifting on the light breeze, the diffuse light of the sun – tracing a low winter’s path in synchronistic harmony with the topography of Yosemite’s arcing south rim – clarifies every staple and transient feature of the forest. Common oaks and cedars, ones I have stared at for 15 years just outside The Gallery, seem wholly exotic cloaked in this gleaming; the falling leaves playfully constructing an abstract tapestry on the forest floor, reflect a shimmer that seems to give them exuberance even at their end. New or old, everything is defined. It reminds one that there is so much to see and experience. I can’t help but wish to wander.
Inside, I turn towards the work of Charles Cramer present on our walls, showcasing a similarly seductive light as that which called from outside. A recurring theme I find amongst photographer’s work that speaks to me, is its invitation to explore! Ansel Adams’ original photographs are no different; they are a ticket to a world so familiar and yet so mystical. For a time, Mr. Cramer studied under and worked with Ansel. It comes as no shock, therefore, that Charlie creates original photographs that stoke similar temptations.
In many ways, Charles Cramer and Ansel Adams followed kindred paths. Both have called Central California home. Early in their career, both pursued music as a profession only to eventually be lured away by the artistic promise of photography. And both have fully embraced the landscape as a muse – especially the Sierra Nevada Mountains to be found in their relative backyard. But where their stories perhaps diverge, is in their degree of intrepidness. Sure, in his younger years Ansel Adams was a menace on the trail, hiking long distances, high into the rugged mountains and into dangerous scenarios that would tame most backcountry enthusiasts. Then, later in life, he crisscrossed many state lines while on photographic assignments. But his adventures mostly kept to the West – and with great benefit to his soul, to photography, and to the environmental movement. Mr. Cramer on the other hand has continued to photograph the West in his time, while also finding inspiration and eagerness farther afield, to latitudes of unique light and land from Iceland to Antarctica. On these travels, he takes with him the same spirit that has coached him through many photographic journeys in Yosemite, resulting in a body of work that encompasses a diverse world envisioned as a series of spaces inherently in consonance. Each photograph speaks for itself, and to the next.
Listen to Charles Cramer playing the Piano at Ansel Adams home in Carmel, California
Title: I have been by the poplars, by Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Piano: Charles Cramer
Soprano: Rebecca Basilio
Date: May 12th, 1985, at The Adams’ Home in Carmel
Back in the gallery, it is just me and the art, and I am content being the proverbial “fly on the wall” while the art conducts its conversation in silence (visual vigor notwithstanding). Yosemite itself is quiet, with the gallery even more so, closed to guests while we weather through the remainder of 2020; an abundance of caution should be our ethos. Unfortunately for Mr. Cramer, it has left his art without the audience it deserves. Because with art, seeing is believing. There is nothing like being with art. And for those that know Charlie, have seen his work in person, or have taken one of his workshops, you understand the ethic and skill that make their way into each image. It draws you in. The compositions are purposeful. The light is enigmatic. (The phrase “Charlie Light” has made its way into the Yosemite photographer’s lexicon here at The Gallery as a way to concisely explain the quality of that glow). The imagery simply allows you to wander.
So, while it is important to stay at home, we thought we could still bring some Charlie Light to you. It has been a little over 40 years since Mr. Cramer had his first exhibit in Yosemite in 1979 – hosted that year in The Valley Visitor Center. And we look forward to adding to that history, not just this year, but in the years to come. To accompany the pieces on display, Charlie has generously contributed some stories about a few of our favorites from his life in photography. As an added bonus, we have also shared a track of Charlie masterfully playing the piano, a recording that was made on Mother’s Day 1985 at Ansel and Virginia Adams’ Carmel home shortly after Ansel’s passing the year prior. The piano that Charlie is playing also happens to be Ansel’s cherished Mason and Hamlin grand.
We hope you enjoy our virtual exhibition and that it gives you the freedom to wander and to be with art – even if it’s from your sofa.
We miss you. We wish you were here. But we know it is time to be smart, and be safe. Yosemite and The Gallery will still be here when we can all see each other again, and we will look forward to that day.
Stories of the Images, by Charles Cramer:
One of my favorite images, made around 1982. Some friends and I had left the Valley, drove through the tunnel, and had just made the turn south as the road heads towards glacier point. There was a turnout here, and we stopped because there was some beautiful fog. Fog does wonderful things in landscapes, and separates trees beautifully—this image wouldn’t work without the fog. This area was in the big 1990 fire, and many of the trees you see here are now gone, including the main ones in this image. For my dye transfer printing, this image became the image I printed the most, trying out various approaches. With dye transfer, I was able to brighten the highlights in just that young, glowing tree, which I thought was very effective. Later when I printed it digitally, it was much easier to do, along with better color, since I could now control just about everything.
This was made January of 2013. It rained the day before, not enough to melt the snow, but to cause the sides of these oaks to become quite wet. So, when the sun did come over the valley rim, it caused the moisture in the trees to evaporate into a mist, an incredible sight. It didn’t last very long, but I was fortunate to be there when it happened. I used color negative film, because of the extreme contrast. Negatives are hard to scan, but this one worked out very nicely.
In 1997, I was traveling through Acadia National Park in Maine when I saw this scene. Photographing trees on the edge of a road can provide wonderful lighting, a kind of natural stage lighting. The trees on the road edge get the most light, and as the scene extends deeper into the forest, there is less and less light. So, that main tree is beautifully lit, while the trees in the background just get darker and darker. Perfect! Also, it was late Fall, providing this wonderfully simple arrangement of leaves. If it were the height of Fall, then it would just be a tree loaded with lots of red leaves. This creates a much more interesting pattern.
Aspen trees are a favorite of photographers. I find white trunks wonderful. Boulder Mountain is basically one huge repository of aspen, and rises above most of southern Utah. This location must have been around 10,000 feet. What made me stop was the fog, along with the strange dark branches on these trees. If the fog were not there, all the trees would blend together into a confusing mess. The fog separates the close from the far. It’s nirvana for most landscape images (like my Trees in Fog image). You might also notice that I was ridiculously late in the season–there’s not even any color remaining in the leaves on the ground! (I was actually on my way back from photographing aspen in Colorado). I was late for these aspen, but fortunately, there’s a group of very young aspen that provide all the yellow color you see. This is not normally the time to make aspen photos here, but in this case, worked out well.
I made this in 1993, and actually don’t remember even making the photo! The image is mainly the off-white snowy trees, along with the color from the face of El Capitan. Although I made the photo, I still wonder what the light was doing. Normally, shaded colors come out bluish, but the original transparency looks pretty much as you see it here. And what created the wonderful subtle yellow color of El Capitan? At the time, I was making my color prints with the Dye Transfer Process, and I knew I would not be printing this, because printing subtle off-whites is just asking for trouble. But, a few years later when digital printing was taking off, I realized this image would be perfect, since digital can handle subtle whites perhaps better than any other process. One of the salespeople at the Ansel Adams Gallery loved this image, and that really helps with sales! It was the first such digitally-produced print to sell at the gallery. At that time, digital was pretty unknown, and we tried not to say the “D” word. Now, digital is the standard.
This image, made around 2004, appears very calm and restful. Sunset (as you see here) and sunrise are usually the best times to make landscape images. It’s also the favored time for mosquitoes, and these grassy, wet meadows were alive with swarms of them! (The suffering we have to go through for good images!!) Fortunately, I had a mask and insect repellent. Also, I was very fortunate to find a composition that worked well, with that young pine pointing into the reflection of Ragged peak. This is a rare image for me since I don’t often include sky. But the shapes of these mountains with Ragged Peak were just irresistible.
This is the granddaddy of all the images in the show. I believe I made this in 1980, and many of the oaks you see here are no longer around, 40 years later. Winds and heavy snow contributed to their demise. This scene has incredible contrast, with deep shadows, bright sky, and even the sun! I was mostly making monochrome images at the time, but carried some color negative film to experiment with. This Ektacolor film was less than archival, so I was fortunate to have put many of these old negatives in air-tight envelopes into my freezer. Decades later, I defrosted some of these images, and was able to scan and make prints of these scenes. This one was a real challenge, but I’m very happy with this print.