Bender’s Friendship with Ansel Adams

The artist with whom Bender was perhaps closest after Anne Bremer was Ansel Adams, who decided to be a professional photographer rather than a concert pianist through Bender’s encouragement. Immediately after they met in 1926 Bender invited Adams to his office, looked through his photographs of the High Sierra, and declared, “We have to do a portfolio of these.” He made all the arrangements for an edition of 100 portfolios, printed by Grabhorn, with 18 images each, to be sold for $50 each.  Bender said he would take ten copies and handed Adams a check for $500, then got on the phone and lined up additional supporters until half of the edition was pre-sold.

Ansel Adams, Albert Bender and Virginia Adams (Bancroft Library, photographer unknown)

Ansel Adams, Albert Bender and Virginia Adams (Bancroft Library, photographer unknown)

Bender was 60 when they met and Adams was 24. Bender was just over five feet and Adams was just under six feet. But they became great friends and jokesters with each other. Here they are with Ansel’s wife Virginia, probably at the Atherton home of Rosalie Stern.

Adams wrote glowingly about Bender in his autobiography.  In the Ansel Adams papers at the Center for Creative Photography and in the Bender papers at Mills College are numerous letters documenting their close friendship. Bender introduced Adams to many people who became important patrons of his work, as well as artists and writers. In 1927 they traveled together to Santa Fe and Taos, where Bender introduced Adams to Mary Austin. This led to the creation of a limited edition book, Taos Pueblo, with text by Austin and photographs by Adams. The photographer was eternally grateful to Bender for his early and continuing support, belief in his talent, and friendship.

What’s the header image?

It’s from a postcard representing the Golden Gate and the Panama Pacific International Exposition that took place in the Marina District of San Francisco in 1915. Albert Bender helped make insurance arrangements for the fair. Anne Bremer exhibited five paintings and was awarded a Bronze Medal.

A portion of the dome and arcade of the Palace of Fine Arts (where Anne’s work was shown) is at the lower left of the image.  The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Bernard Maybeck and still stands today, the only remnant of the exposition, after a series of restorations.


For several years I have been researching and writing about late-19th-century and early-20th-century California art, architecture, museums and patronage. My major long-term project is a dual biography tentatively titled Kissing Cousins, AMB and AMB: The Artistic Lives of San Francisco’s Albert M. Bender and Anne M. Bremer. Meanwhile, I would like to introduce you to these two remarkable people who had a major impact on the Bay Area cultural landscape.

Anne Bremer (1868-1923) was a highly regarded San Francisco-based artist, noteworthy for her interest in modernism and experimentation, especially after she studied in New York and Paris in 1910-1911. She held a number of leadership roles in the Bay Area art community. Her career was cut tragically short by leukemia. Albert Bender (1866-1941) was her cousin and beloved life partner. A successful insurance broker, he became a major patron of artists, museums, libraries, and performing arts organizations. Through Anne’s influence, he was particularly open to modernism, and he helped establish what are now the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Mills College Art Museum.

To read more, click on “About Albert Bender” and “About Anne Bremer” at the top of this page.