Alden B. Dow and the “Unidentified Man”

A photograph in the Archives marked “Alden B. Dow and Unidentified Man” led to the discovery of the little-known acquaintance between Mr. Dow and the premier landscape photographer of the American West, Ansel Adams, the unidentified man in the photo.

Both men shared a passion for capturing the beauty of nature through photography. One of the many movies filmed by Mr. Dow is of a 1965 California vacation that includes a visit to Yosemite National Park, the place Adams photographed throughout his long career. In the movie are lingering sequences showing Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls, mountain ranges, and deep valleys. Mr. Dow even filmed a picnic lunch Mrs. Dow and their traveling companions enjoyed on a rock ledge with a view of Half Dome across the valley.

On a subsequent trip to California, Mr. and Mrs. Dow met Adams and visited his home in Carmel in 1974. As a memento, Adams signed a copy of one of his books for Mr. Dow with the inscription, “For Alden B. Dow … Appreciating his visit and hoping for a ‘very soon’ return.”

Following the trip, Mr. Dow sent a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Adams thanking them for an enjoyable visit, adding “I feel that you are both real friends and hope that we may meet again.”

And meet again they did later the same year. The 831 Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan, was holding an Ansel Adams photography exhibit and on November 23, 1974, Adams himself was at the gallery to autograph his books and chat with visitors. Before leaving the state, however, it is clear that he and his wife visited the Dows in the Home and Studio.

“It was a great experience having you here in Midland. We all enjoyed you and Virginia so much. You must come back for another visit when you are not so rushed,” Mr. Dow wrote to Adams on December 17, 1974. Fortunately, before they headed back home to California, there was time for one quick snapshot to document Alden B. Dow with Ansel and Virginia Adams, the now-identified couple in the photograph.

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