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Published in Macalester Today
BY LYNETTE LAMB
A photographer since his teens, Jim Alinder ’63 is today one of the world’s leading experts on a beloved Western artist.
Back in the 1970s, Jim Alinder ’63 was happily working as a photo-graphy professor at the University of Nebraska and as editor of the journal of the Society for Photographic Education. In the latter capacity, he asked noted Western photographer Ansel Adams to write an article—and his life took an important turn.
Before long, Adams had asked Alinder to jury a competition for the Friends of Photography group he’d founded in Carmel, Calif., and soon asked him to become director of the fledgling organization. What followed over the next seven years—until Adams’s death in 1984—was a close photographic friendship whose ripples continue even today, 30 years later.
Not only did Jim Alinder undertake photography outings with Adams and collaborate with him on the Friends of Photography, his wife, Mary Street Alinder, was Adams’s chief of staff and helped the noted photographer write his autobiography. After Adams’s death, the Alinders opened a gallery in Gualala, Calif.—on the coast near Sea Ranch, three hours north of San Francisco—where they mostly deal in prints by Adams.
Alinder’s own photographs have been shown in exhibits all over the world and are found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the International Museum of Photography, among many others. He has also published five books of photography, the best known of which is The Sea Ranch (Princeton Architectural Press, 2004, revised 2013), a study of the iconic contemporary oceanfront community where Alinder and his wife lived for many years.
Following are excerpts from an interview with Alinder, conducted in Gualala while he was between bids with a New York auction house. Says Alinder, “Sotheby’s and Christie’s know me well.”
On his early years: I grew up in south Minneapolis and became a professional photographer at 14. By the time I was at Mac, I was taking portraits and wedding and product photos. I took pictures at the 1960s Snow Ball at Mac; I was photo editor of The Mac Weekly and an editor of the yearbook. I lived at home and drove to campus in a little sports car I bought with my earnings.
On life after Mac: I graduated in three years and then studied photography and political science at the University of Minnesota before going to Somalia with the Peace Corps. We were only the second unit sent to that country. It was a very different place then. My wife’s father was a USAID employee in Somalia. We met there and were married in the Mogadishu gardens of the American ambassador.
On Adams: He was the life of the party, always telling jokes and playing the piano—he was a concert pianist in his youth. He had visited Georgia O’Keefe in New Mexico and had legendary stories about those adventures. When Mary worked for Adams, staff members could buy five prints a year at a discount. That’s how I got started buying and selling Adams’s prints. Now I build whole collections for people.
On the prints: Although today most Ansel Adams prints sell for between $9,000 and $50,000, I just sold a 16 x 20 print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, for $62,5000. (Editor’s note: Adams called this “my most well- known photo.”) It’s still a bargain compared to what a famous painting would cost you. Ansel printed to order and the records can be hard to piece together. He made at least 1,000 prints of Moonrise; he made as few as half a dozen prints of other photos.
Reading about Adams: My wife, Mary, helped Ansel write his 1985 autobiography. In 1996 her own book, Ansel Adams: A Biography, was published by Henry Holt. A revised edition is coming out later this year.