We started to have a talk about Minor and Ansel, and she began to tell stories about these younger friends of hers, who in her opinion couldn’t properly take care of their health — she was 91 at the time. Then she began to gossip about Ansel and what a prude and tight-ass he was. “He’s always showing off,” she said.

Ansel had done an advertising campaign for Yuban coffee, and they used one of his Yosemite pictures on the outside of the can. Ansel sent a five-pound can to Imogen, and the coffee was excellent, and she figured, “Well, I now have to pay him back.” So she put a bunch of earth in the can and some seeds and sent it down to Carmel with the directions, “Just add water, Ansel. Here are some beautiful plants for you.” He did as she directed, and the plant came up strong and healthy. And then one day his buddy the sheriff came to visit in his home and looked at it and said, “Ansel, what are you doing growing dope? You know I can arrest you for this.” Needless to say, Ansel then got on the phone to cuss her out. She just thought it was hilarious.

Photographer Abe Frajndlich on his first meeting with prankster and photography legend Imogen Cunningham, and her punking of Ansel Adams, in his book Penelope’s Hungry Eyes. Imogen’s spiritual kinship with painter Georgie O’Keefe is the subject of one lens in the Seattle Art Museum’s Elles exhibition — a look at work by seminal female artists, up through February 17. If you need a place to stay while you’re here, let us know.

All photos by Alan Ross

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