THE PRESENCE OF GREATNESS
By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (Retired)
my series on Greatness.
was a wonderful writer. She did the arts and entertainment section
for the paper, many years ago. She
always did her homework on whomever she was to interview and always
came on the scene prepared. But, what I found most fascinating
about her was the fact the she never took her eyes off the face
of the interviewee and never stopped writing in her reporter’s
notebook during the interview. I don’t know how she accomplished
that feat. If I tried to do it, my notes would be illegible and
my words would run all over the page and beyond. Yet, her notes
would all neatly appear on their own lines and she seemed to sense
when she had reached the end of the page. I’ve heard of touch
typing, but not touch writing.
I guess that it was sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s
that I had to meet Amei at a mid-town hotel in Manhattan. We were
to interview the world renown landscape photographer, Ansel Adams.
This was not a case of my finding out after the fact that I had
been in the presence of greatness. This was a man of whom I had
been aware from the time I first started playing with cameras.
I had the most profound admiration for his work. And now, quite
frankly, I was in awe at actually meeting this icon of the photographic
The clerk at the hotel desk phoned Adams’ room and we were
told that we were expected. We were greeted at the door by the
great man, himself. When I introduced myself, he took my hand warmly,
almost as though we were both on the same level. I certainly didn’t
feel that way.
My knees were trembling as I asked if he would be kind enough to
sit in this chair during the interview. It would afford me the
least cluttered background for my pictures.
He plunked himself down and Amei began her interview as I went
about setting up my light stands and hooking up the battery packs
to my flash units.
To this day, I can’t understand my nervousness. After all,
I had photographed many a celebrity before. There were stars of
stage and screen, plus heads of state including several US Presidents.
Why was I being so apprehensive on this occasion?
I can only attribute it to the possibility that I was trying to
impress this great photographer with my own meager skills. Good
grief! Talk about an inflated ego.
Adams had a great white beard and a shock of thinning white hair.
So, I set up one more light than I normally would have used. I
had a key light high and to the right. The flash on my Nikon, which
I would use on a long coil cord held arms length to my left would
act as a fill light. The extra light was on a stand, high and behind
the subject, and would, if I planned right, highlite his silvery
hair and beard.
Oh, my gosh! Adams couldn’t help but be impressed when he
saw this dynamic portrait of him when it appeared in the paper.
I might never become as famous as Ansel Adams, but, I would certainly
have proven to him that I knew my beans when it came to lighting
a head and shoulders shot.
Well, let’s cut to the chase. Those were absolutely the worst
photographs of my entire career. That extra light that I threw
in to highlight his silver hair was placed badly and the light
shone right into my lens resulting in light streaks and flare so
bad that it looked as though I had made my photos in the midst
of a raging blizzard.
The darkroom techs did the best that they could, but nothing could
really save those shots. One of them ran with the story. I asked
the Picture Editor if he would drop my credit line and mercifully,
Ansell Adams had left New York the day after our interview to go
back to his beloved mountains in Yosemete Park in California. I
hoped that he never had the opportunity to see the story and my
I was abashed and ashamed of my work on that story. It certainly
tempered my ego and punctured my vanity.
At least temporarily. You might be glad to note that in the ensuing
years, I have recovered and am back to being the same egotistical,
pompous and vain son of a bitch as before.