"Polaroids were such a big part of my life when I started photography," Linda said. "I haven't given all of them away. I'm looking around my office as I talk with you - there is a Polaroid 600, a Polaroid Land camera and a Spectra here. I used a Polaroid back on my Hasselblad mostly. It all started coming back to me after we emailed and I pulled out a Polaroid I thought you'd be interested in - one that Ansel Adams took of me and my boyfriend. Would you like that one?"
Why yes, yes I would.
I could hear her rummaging through papers and walking through her studio office. "Wow - I just had my hands on it yesterday," she says, "I know they are in a glassine envelope here somewhere. I just got back from Mexico and the office is filled. It's crazy. I was taking Polaroids in Mexico, too, so I could give them away to people."
I wrote notes as fast as I could on my pad, praying that she would find the photo. Linda Wolf is a pioneering female photographer rockstar in her own right, whose work has been shown in museums and galleries worldwide. She started as a teenager in LA taking pictures for the first all-girl rock band to be signed by a major label (Fanny, in the late 1960's). She was studying in Provence in the early 70's at the Institute of American Universities and L’Ecole Experimental Photographic.
That's where she met Ansel Adams.
"I was 24 that year," Linda muses, "God, where does the time go? Somehow I was invited to go to a lunch full of the most famous photographers - the photography world then was quite small. I remember going up to Ansel Adams and there was a crowd of people surrounding him - I never had a problem going up to people. He was showing off the new Polaroid. I asked him to take our picture and he said yes. He posed us and started clicking away and of course people started photographing him taking the pictures. He gave us the photo then and there. It's me and my boyfriend at the time."
"The experiences I had in France have influenced me and my own art for the rest of my life. Because of that photo that I created a relationship with Ansel Adams and he wrote a recommendation for me for a billboard photography project for Los Angeles, Kodak and the Olympics." Linda pauses, remembering and then laughs a little, "I ended up putting that recommendation on everything I did for a while. I can't believe I can't put my hands on that photo! It was just here yesterday, I promise."
We continued to talk and she told me about how she exhibited her Bus Bench project in Arles in 1981, the year that Robert Mapplethorpe (another Polaroid photographer) was the iconic presenter. "I have a photo of Robert that I could send you, but it's not a Polaroid." There were noises of continued shuffling and digging and a bit of growing frustration. "I'll make looking for these a priority" Linda promised. I asked if she would also send Polaroids she took herself - Linda went from photographing the rock group Fanny to being on the Joe Cocker tour and photographing other celebrities (Patti Smith!) and creating photojournalism projects and books. She also went on to be one of the founding members of Women in Photography International, a group that includes another well-known photographer Carrie Mae Weems. "There weren't a lot of women doing art photography then," she said, "it was just a handful of us."
After the call ended, I got an email with two triumphant words: "Found them!" A few hours later, the scan of the Polaroid with a radiant, happy couple appeared in my inbox. The colors are still vibrant - his pink shirt, their dark curly hair, her red cardigan. She also sent two black and white photos showing Ansel Adam's face pressed to the back of his SX-70 camera. In the photos his blazer is neatly buttoned and a crowd of photographers surrounds him in the French courtyard, which of course has arched French doors, vine-covered walls and white wrought-iron chairs.
"It was a time when you could really get to know someone," Linda mused, "photography was a very different world before computers."
Polaroid SX-70 photo of Mark Tulane and Linda Wolf by Ansel Adams, used by kind permission from Linda Wolf. Taken in Arles, France, at the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, Summer 1974. Photos of Ansel Adams and group used by kind permission from Linda Wolf, Arles, France, 1974. All photos copyright Linda Wolf.