Looking for Hitchcock I found Ansel Adams.
Alfred Hitchcock immortalized the town of Bodega and nearby Bodega Bay, in Northern California, in his 1963 thriller, The Birds. There are multiple locations that film buffs will easily recognize. Perhaps the most famous of them all Is the Potter Schoolhouse, the location for a particularly terrifying scene in which a classroom full of children run screaming downhill as a flock of violent birds swoop down on them.
A cloudless blue sky provided the perfect backdrop for a photograph of the church. After taking a few shots of the Potter House (now a private residence and you can not go inside), I walked around the church and photographed it from every angle– or so I thought.
Feeling satisfied, I decided to venture inside, curious if there might be a candle to light (a ritual I began many years ago in Italy). Hanging immediately to the right of the doorway was a black and white photograph of the church, taken by famous naturalist photographer Ansel Adams in 1953. A fitting metaphor for lighting a candle.
Looking for Hitchcock I found Ansel Adams
Adams is most known for the clarity and realism of his landscape photographs at a time when photographers were trying desperately to make photographs that looked like paintings. His iconic images established photography as fine art.
As I studied Adam’s photograph, titled Church and Road, I realized that my photographs of the church sucked. I’d missed one of the key elements of making a good photograph that Adams always stressed, “Taking a good photograph is often about knowing where to stand.” I definitely had not stood in the right spot.
To be fair to myself, I have to allow that the road is now paved and curves away from the church. It no longer creates the dramatic perspective it did when Adams photographed it. The grass is regularly mown, and there are some trees that have grown taller on either side of the church, so it is not quite possible to stand in exactly the same spot where Adams stood.
Standing at the bottom of the hill studying the church, I reflected on the fact that not one, but two, very famous artists had walked here before me. And that if I had not gone inside I’d have missed a lesson from one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century.
That day, thanks to Hitchcock, I met Adams.
My image of Church and Road after my lesson with Adams.
The poster made for the church is available for sale in a limited edition print. All money goes to the restoration and maintenance of the church. To purchase a poster you can contact the church directly. St. Teresa of Avila.
If you go: Bodega Bay is an easy and beautiful day trip from San Francisco or anywhere in Sonoma County or Napa Valley.
From San Francisco drive Highway 1 north. Stop in Tomales Bay for Oysters, cheese from Cowgirl Creamery in Pt. Reyes, and olive oil from 80 acres. Depending on how many stops you make it could take you a half-day to arrive at Bodega Bay. Or you can drive the 101 to Railroad Ave. then, exit in Santa Rosa and head west.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about my experience and if you’ve ever had a similar experience. Are you a fan of Hitchcok or Adams?