'The Project' image

Fiat Lux ("let there be light") is not only the motto of the University of California. It is also the name of a vast repository of photographs taken of the entire UC system nearly fifty years ago by Ansel Adams, one of the most famous photographers of the 20th Century. This extraordinary time capsule from the UC's past has been chosen as the centerpiece for the 2012 On the Same Page program. Through our website (and the network of classes, talks, exhibitions, and databases that it weaves together), we invite you to explore the Fiat Lux collection, to look imaginatively and critically at our university's history, and to participate actively in making its future. We are all stewards of the University of California.

Ansel Adams was commissioned in 1964 to create a portrait of the UC during a period of spectacular growth and expansion. At a reception at UC Santa Cruz, University of California President Clark Kerr rather abruptly proposed the idea of producing a photographic book to commemorate the upcoming centennial celebration of the university in 1968. He met Ansel Adams and the writer Nancy Newhall at the door, pointed to both of them and said, "You're going to do the centennial book on the university." Adams replied, "Well, why not?"1

Adams and Newhall were asked to create a book that would "capture and relate in photographs the appearance and spirit of the campuses and activities of the University of California . . . . It is intended that your book will emphasize the prospective view for the university and that it will present a sense of the opportunities which lie ahead."2 In asking Adams and Newhall to create in images and words a prophetic vision of the future, Kerr challenged them to project, as far as possible, "the next hundred years."3 This was an impossible expectation, of course, since one cannot literally photograph the future. Yet Adams and Newhall took Kerr's challenge as their general directive.4 The result was a project that spanned four years, and produced over 6000 images--all of which the UC Regents own. After Adams' lifetime devotion to Yosemite, "this was probably the biggest single project of his life," according to Clark Kerr.5

For three years, both Adams and Newhall toured the state, visiting nine campuses and dozens of the UC's scientific field stations, reserves, observatories, and agricultural outposts. They produced in 1967 a book called Fiat Lux for the UC's centennial. The photographs in the Fiat Lux collection capture the sense of optimism and even hubris that guided these heady days of UC expansion. One sees modernist buildings plunked down in sometimes quite barren locations, cerebral outposts in arid California landscapes, or in the case of Santa Cruz, a new campus emerging from the ruins of a dilapidated old farm. In the great surge of planning and expansion inaugurated by Clark Kerr's legendary 1960 California Master Plan of Higher Education, the university toiled to prepare for a "tidal wave" of new student enrollments. The university expected it would need to double its capacity in a single decade: in actuality it tripled. "On many campuses," Adams and Newhall said, "the University was being torn down, rebuilt and expanded at a rate unbelievable, perhaps, except by eyewitnesses. Buildings were being demolished and carted away. Bulldozers were excavating new sites and roads, and carving out new landscapes. Cranes were lifting up girders and swinging shapes of precast concrete into place. . . . Visually, the University was in metamorphosis."6

Both Adams and Newhall recognized that "there has never been a more illuminating period through which to view the University."7 Now, fifty years later, the University of California faces some of the most difficult times in its history. The public good in California is imperiled, and the university, as a public institution, is no exception. While there have been fiscal emergencies throughout the UC's 144-year history, the present crisis is of historic proportions, with schemes for privatization as well as calls for disaggregation of campuses and schools voiced with unparalleled frequency and resonance. How the UC weathers this epoch will have profound implications for the State of California.

The 2012 On the Same Page program invites our campus community and, indeed, the larger California public to participate in expansive conversations about the University of California's vision, public mandate, and future prospects.8 This website provides multiple ways to learn about the archive, experience and respond to the Fiat Lux centennial book and Adams' photographs, and to remix, re-imagine and remake both the photographs and the institution they represent. Fiat lux redux!

Photo: Self portrait of Ansel Adams at UC Berkeley, September 1966. Latimer Hall in front of the west facade of Lewis Hall. Photo by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection, California Museum of Photography at the University of California, Riverside.


1 Conversations with Ansel Adams, an interview conducted by Ruth Teiser and Catherine Harroun, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, conducted in 1972, 1974, and 1975, p. 545. http://www.archive.org/stream/convanseladams00adamrich/convanseladams00adamrich_djvu.txt
2 Letter of understanding from Earl C. Bolton to Ansel Adams, October 21, 1964, The Bancroft Library, CU 5.9, box 17, folder 1.
3 Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall, Fiat Lux: The University of California, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967, p.
4 Ibid, p. 7.
5 Quoted in Melinda Wortz, Ansel Adams: Fiat Lux, The Premier Exhibition of Photographs of the University of California, Irvine: University of California, 1990, p. 13.
6 Ibid.
7 Adams and Newhall, Fiat Lux, p. 2.
8 See also Catherine M. Cole, "Picturing our Future," Townsend Center Newsletter, February/March 2012, http://townsendcenter.berkeley.edu/article37.shtml.