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.
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.