In 1927, Ansel Adams took a photograph of the face of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park. He titled it "Monolith, the Face of Half Dome."
This image was the world-famous photographer's first successful attempt at pre-visualization – see in the mind's eye what the final print should look like and adjusting the process accordingly.
It was also the first print in what is now the largest private collection of Ansel Adams photography in the world. Owner David H. Arrington, a Midland oil executive and Texas Tech University alumnus, bought the image early in his career, in part because in the image he sees all the failed attempts that led to this one beautiful success.
"That this is an example of his first successful attempt at his idea only means he kept trying until he got what his idea was," Arrington said.
Starting Aug. 14, Arrington's collection will be on display at the Museum of Texas Tech University. The collection includes more than 650 prints and correspondence between Adams and Edwin Land, the inventor of the Polaroid camera. Arrington, who is on the board of directors for the Texas Tech Foundation, even has Polaroid pictures of Adams and Land and their wives on vacation.
The art of Ansel Adams
Arrington started taking pictures as a teenager, and in his desire to become better, he found books on photography authored by Adams. The nature photographer wrote about the technical aspects of his trade, hitting on lenses, cameras, film type and prints.
In one of these books, Arrington discovered pre-visualization. The idea is for the photographer to see in his mind's eye what he wants the picture to look like, including the angle, shadows, color and more. With the final image in mind, the photographer can take the necessary steps to get that image, adjusting where he stands, what lens he uses, how much light he allows in and how he will develop that film in the darkroom. Every step goes into that visualization.
With such effort going into creating the perfect image, it's no wonder Adams looks at photography as an art form. Although Adams was not the only photographer making art instead of a record, he was one of the first champions of that movement.
"For a long time photography was only a recording device," Arrington said "It was not viewed as art, as you and I now view it today.
"He really kind of took it to the next level and made it popular. He brought it into the 21st century with vigor."
Art, however, was more expensive, so despite an early love for Adams' work, Arrington didn't buy his first image until he was in his late 20s. He picked "Monolith" on purpose, appreciating the reminder that success usually is preceded by a lot of failure.
As his oil business grew, so did his collection. Without quite intending to, he became a collector.
"I didn't really set out to obtain the largest collection in the world, I just did it," Arrington said. "I did it out of passion rather than out of intention."
He now has 656 images, plus the coffee cans, correspondence and Polaroids. Besides "Monolith," of which he has a couple of prints, he also owns four prints of Adams' most well-known image "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico," including the first image Adams printed and the second one he gave to his wife.
Arrington is always on the lookout for new images as well. It helps that he's the largest private collector in the world, so he generally gets the first phone call when an Ansel Adams piece pops up. The artist himself has helped him out as well.
"He was so prolific that I am still amazed, after 20-something years of collecting, that I still, on a regular basis, see images I've never seen before," he said. "It's got to be finite, but I haven't found that point yet."
An oil man in the photography business
Arrington got his first camera when he was in junior high school in Dallas. He took pictures and read books, learning lessons from the greats.
When he came to Texas Tech in 1979, he majored in finance but made something of a name for himself behind the camera. He took group shots of fraternities and sororities, the band and the football team.
In 1980 he was standing on top of the press box when Texas Tech beat Texas 24-21 and he took a picture of the scoreboard. He spent the weekend making 5-by-7 prints of that image, and on Monday sold them to anyone who was interested. The city boy bought his first cowboy boots with the money he made.
"I'm a photographer trapped in an oil man's body," he joked.
After graduating in 1983 he moved to the Permian Basin and started as an independent oil producer. Now he wears boots every day and instead of watching football games from atop the press box, he has a luxury suite to enjoy the games. He still takes pictures, although he has no plans to introduce a David Arrington collection to the public.
Art collecting isn't uncommon in his line of work, Arrington said, though admittedly his collection is larger in scope than that of many of his friends. Some collect Adams photos as well, while others collect photos from Frederic Remington or paintings from Claude Monet or Pablo Picasso.
Arrington has no plans to branch out.
"I appreciate a lot about Ansel Adams," he said. "He's just my favorite."
Sharing the wealth
Arrington's collection has criss-crossed the United States and gone overseas a few times. He realized one day other people should get to experience his collection as well, so he started loaning it out to museums and galleries. It's been all over the world, he said.
Now it's coming down the road just a little bit.
"For this venue it's because I'm a Red Raider and I want to give back," he said.
About 100 pieces from his collection will be open to the public at the Museum of Texas Tech University. Admission to the museum is free. Arrington will be at the museum for an opening day event at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 14 and will talk about his collection and his appreciation for Adams.
He'll return a few days later both for Texas Tech's home football opener against Sam Houston State University (his wife's alma mater) and to drop off his son, D.J. Arrington, who starts at Texas Tech this year.
"It's my privilege to help with this," he said.