Ansel and Grandma / by Solomon Klein

Random creek in Yosemite

Random creek in Yosemite

“You don’t make a photograph with just a camera.” — Ansel Adams

You may have heard something like this before. Great photos aren’t had simply by having good gear (although good gear is great, good in fact).

But the truth is, good gear won’t give you great photos, only good ones. And it won’t necessarily do that all the time, either. There’s technique and skill that one must acquire to make a great photograph.

But the Ansel quote didn’t end there.

“You don’t make a photograph with just a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” — Ansel Adams

He said that about photography, but I think this is true of any creative process, be it photography, painting, writing, home-building. We bring along all of our past experiences into the work we do, and the things we make. The images we’ve seen. The books we’ve read. The songs we’ve heard. The people we’ve loved.


The people we’ve loved.



This painting hangs in our bedroom. Somehow, in all the moves we’ve made in the past 20 years, this painting has always been in our room.

Maybe there’s some conspiracy, I don’t know.

As is common with familiar things, I eventually forget details. I just noticed that the painting says it was made in “76” (that would be 1976). I’m pretty sure I knew that at sometime, but you know. I forget things.

It hit me that this piece of artwork hit the big 4.0 last year. This piece of canvas is 18 years my senior.

I think weird things.

Oh, and “Carmen”? That’s Grandma Carmen to you.

OK, maybe not, but I had to say that to someone. Sorry.  

I think most of my siblings inherited their ability to draw from Grandma Carmen. She did a lot of oil painting in her day. We still have a few of her masterpieces around the house. I can’t draw, but I like to think that the compulsion I have to make things comes from her.

Grandma had really bad arthritis, so much so that she couldn’t straighten out her fingers. I can’t remember her ever complaining about that, but I’m told that that stuff is pretty painful.

Yet for all of that, she had some excellent penmanship (or is that penwomanship? I don’t know). And she could draw like a dream.

She had this thing she would do that I found fascinating. She’d pick up a piece of scratch paper (occasionally an abandoned piece of grandkid artwork), and build a piece of art from what scribbles were left on the paper.

(And I’m complaining that I don’t have photographic opportunities, or live in a visually interesting place.)

I don’t know if that was original with her or not. I’d imagine someone had to have thought of that, but maybe not. Maybe we can name this process after Grandma.

As they say, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s what Grandma did. She applied that thinking not just to her artwork, but to her life in general.

She also reminds me to be more thankful for what I have, and to not let circumstances or difficulties stop me from making things. She came with her family from Mexico as a child, and moved into southern California. As you may know, people were not exactly too friendly at the time towards people like my Grandma. Yet, that didn’t stop her. She stayed. And now I’m here.

Grandma did a lot of painting in her day.

That ended 16 years ago. Her birthday was yesterday.

Happy Birthday, Grandma. I miss you.

We’ll meet again.