Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation

Protecting and Preserving All Life -- By Extending Human Vision

ANSEL ADAMS (1902-1984)
Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras

The portfolio was championed by Albert Bender (to whom Adams later dedicated Portfolio Two), an insurance broker and philanthropist with a deep commitment to San Francisco's world of arts and letters. Bender admired Adams' work and proposed that he produce one hundred portfolios of eighteen prints, each to sell for fifty dollars. On the morning that the project was born, Bender bought ten portfolios in advance and handed Adams a check for five hundred dollars. While Adams sat 'electrified', Bender sold by phone more than half the edition, even before all of the negatives had been made.

Bender was a close friend and associate of Stephen Mather, who doubtless originated the idea of a portfolio privately sold as the means of proving to Adams he could trust Mather to thrust him into prominence as a photographer once he had assisted with disposing of Arthur C. Pillsbury.  This deal is typical of the way Mather worked, using influence and paying off in favors, far less easily traced than more substantial exchanges.  

The portfolio was called - at the insistence of the publisher, Grabhorn Press, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras. The term 'Parmelian' was a synthetic and meaningless word, made up of bits and pieces of other, 'grander' words, such as 'Parthenon' 'Parnassus' 'amelioration' and 'Pelias and Melisand'. The pretentious title was intended to emphasize the fact that these were not mere photographic prints - a mild embarrassment to Adams for the rest of his life, but perhaps not so embarrassing as the unwonted 's' on the end of 'Sierra'. An entire set is rarely offered at auction. 

The focus on "Photography as Art" divided appreciation of the power that technology was then having on every aspect of human culture.  Today, Photography as art includes the use of photographs for creating worlds which exist only in imagination and these forms of art still continue to explode.