MERRIMAC — Lance Hidy can say with all honesty that he worked side-by-side with the late Ansel Adams, who is considered a legend in the field of wilderness photography and an early leader of the environmental movement.
Known worldwide for his black-and-white images of America’s national parks, Adams spent most of his life camping and trekking the backwoods of America to capture its natural glory. He lived from 1902 to 1984.
Hidy, 60, of Merrimac, an instructor of art and design at Northern Essex Community College as well as a successful graphic artist, spent three days with Adams designing his last book on photography titled “Yosemite and the Range of Light.”
Hidy said he is now working on another book featuring Adams’ works. It will be titled “Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs” and is scheduled for release in October.
Hidy’s own typeface design, which he calls Penumbra, will be featured in the titles and captions in the new Adams book. The Hidy typeface has also appeared on posters for “The Da Vinci Code” and other Hollywood movies.
The book on Yosemite was published in 1978. Hidy said it was the publisher’s best-selling book that year and continues to be a favorite among fans of Adams’ stunning black-and-white wilderness images.
About 100 people who attended a recent presentation by Hidy at Northern Essex were treated to anecdotes about his relationship with Adams, along with a slide show on some of Adams’ best-known images of America’s national parks.
Hidy told the crowd that when he was visiting with Adams, the phone rang, and Adams left the room for a half-hour. When Adams returned, he said he didn’t know who the caller was, but that it was a man asking him to explain the “zone” system — a photographic exposure technique Adams helped create.
“That’s the kind of man he was,” Hidy said of Adams, “always willing to help a fellow photographer.”
Hidy talked about Adams’ work as a champion of the environment and how Adams brought national attention to maintaining America’s wilderness for future generations.
Hidy first saw Adams in 1973 when the photographer spoke at MIT on environmental issues as president of the Sierra Club.
“I was very impressed with how serious he was about the environment,” Hidy said.
A few years later, Adams’ publisher was looking for someone to design the Yosemite book, which featured about 100 photographs Adams had taken of the Sierra Nevada mountains and Yosemite National Park. It was to be the last of dozens of books Adams was to see published.
Hidy — who studied art at Yale, was experienced in printmaking and photography, and had a deep understanding of the mechanics of book design — was chosen for the job.
Because of Hidy’s experience, Adams invited him to spend three days with Adams and his wife, Virginia, at their ocean-bluff home in Carmel, Calif., where Hidy helped Adams select 100 photos for the Yosemite book.
“He was very engaged and very much focused on whoever was in the room,” Hidy said. “He cared about the earth, and he had this tremendous talent. I think the reason he went into photography was that it gave him a vehicle for sharing the experiences he had in the mountains.”
After selecting the best images for Yosemite, Hidy worked on what sequence the photos would appear in for the book.
“Then we did the typography and design of the binding and dust jacket,” Hidy said. “We also did a boxed deluxe edition. It was the most high-profile job I’d ever done, and the work was inspiring. His pictures were inspiring.”
When the project was complete, Hidy and Adams still communicated, but Adams was having health problems and their correspondence eventually dwindled off before Adams died.
Last year, Adams’ publisher contacted Hidy again and asked if he’d be willing to design “Ansel Adams: 400 photographs.”
Hidy said the images for the new book were selected by Adams’ assistant, Andrea Stillman, and that much of the design work was done long distance by phone, mail or by e-mail.
“An interesting dimension of this is the team is scattered,” Hidy said. “Andrea is in Manhattan, the production manager is in Maine, the pre-press man is in Rhode Island, the director of the Adams trust lives in California, and I’m in Merrimac.”
Best known Ansel Adams photos of national parks
“Monolith, The Face of Half Dome” — 1927, Yosemite National Park
“Vernal Fall” — 1948, Yosemite Valley
“Rose and Driftwood” — 1932, San Francisco
“Clearing Winter Storm” — 1944, Yosemite National Park
“Jeffrey Pine, Sentinel Dome” — 1940, Yosemite National Park