The term “end of an era” speaks of change and it speaks of history. And thus it was at the 24th and final Photographers Rendezvous organized by eminent California photographer, teacher and mentor Al Weber in October 2012. The goal of giving photographers a chance to talk photography, show their work and view work of others remained a constant through all the years, building lasting admiration and friendships among colleagues. The site of Weber’s last Rendezvous was at the San Antonio de Padua Mission near Kings City, CA.
Of the 70 photographers who attended the final Rendezvous, most were former attendees of Al Weber’s photographic workshops over the years and many had been making the trip from numerous locations across the country to attend the annual October Rendezvous for decades. About a dozen could recall the very first event held in American Flats, NV, to which they had received a postcard invitation from Weber.
Among them is Jim Noel, who shared in running the 2012 San Antonio get-together. He offered a few recollections. American Flats, once a thriving gold and silver processing community in the late 1920’s, had been long abandoned by the time Weber and the photographers arrived for a fall weekend in 1988. The tall processing buildings had been stripped of both their metal roofs and floors and were colorfully decorated from top to bottom with graffiti by local youths who held rowdy parties every Saturday night. These were complete with a raging bonfire into which they threw empty spray paint cans, which exploded with a mighty resonance. They were surprised to find the photographers camped out on their turf, but an agreement was reached, and the party went on in one building, while the photographers did their thing in another, and ‘a good time was had by all.’ No one can use the site today, as safety restrictions are now in place to keep people away from the dangerously deteriorated structures with concrete chunks dangling by wires and numerous open holes. Jim said that one of the photographers had the misfortune to fall into one of these. He was pulled out and otherwise saved by taking a shower in a motel in a nearby town. A few cameras that suffered a similar fate were beyond saving.
Other Rendezvous sites have included Lone Pine, Mono Lake, Song Dog Ranch and Kings City, all California places open to camp fires and conversation. “We froze our butts off, but we talked a lot,” is one comment that pretty much says it all. It was only as many of the group members aged that motel rooms were involved, and regrettably they just didn’t offer the space or the ambiance for passionate discussions of photography running late into the night.
“Rendezvous doesn’t ‘just happen.’ Al works all year to set it up,” said Tony Mournian online in the Photo- graphers’ Formulary Blog. “One never knows who will show up, but it is always exciting.” Mournian has doc- umented recent events in videos that include some short pieces you can find on YouTube of the making of a group photo, shot traditionally by Donald G. Rogers. Photographer Larry Angier has also done several series of photographs of the events he has attended.
Additionally, for the past decade the Rendezvous has presented a scholarship to an outstanding applicant that has included both a monetary award, as well as the opportunity to attend the event. This year was exceptional in that two $1,000 prizes were given to Andrew Rogers and Peter Robert Thompson in memory of Charlie Morrell, Dick Baker and Carol Byers who were a part of the Rendezvous group for many years.
Throughout Rendezvous history, Al Weber always brought together an amazing mix of professionals and serious non-professionals, teachers and students, people from his neighborhood in Carmel and folks from halfway around the world. Jim Noel remembers sitting out at a picnic table amid blowing wind and sand as famous landscape photographer Philip Hyde showed the original dye transfer prints for his book, Drylands: The Deserts of North America. He was just one of the impressive special guests Weber invited to give a personal slant on what good photography can be.
David Vestal was there for Rendezvous 24, sharing images from black & white work he did in Brazil and answering questions about his own history as part of the legend of the photographic medium. Weber told the group, “I’ve been promising you for years I’d get David Vestal, known for shooting black & white and always with a M2 Leica 2 around his neck—and all of a sudden he’s here with a digital camera…it’s a sign of the times.” He added, “In the 1930’s we might be introducing Kodachrome and some people would re- sist it.” Paul Schranz was also invited this year to offer insights into recent digital techniques. An inter- nationally noted photographer with traditional West Coast roots, Weber has, nevertheless, been open to change. In an interview, he explained that it is not about abandoning something, but rather of expanding your capabilities. Of himself, he says philosophically, “I’ve slowed down a little—but not stopped!”
Taking an idea and running with it successfully for 24 years is impressive. Equally so is the dedicated group (never fewer than 65 photographers) who have followed Weber to a yearly retreat that “stirs the professional juices in the same way a pep rally stirs up a crowd before the Big Game,” according to Tony Mournian.
Weber announced that this would be his last year running the Rendezvous. What will happen next? In the realization that nothing gone can ever return and be exactly the same, what can be hoped is that the torch will pass to others. For now, we’ll wait and see.
Al Weber’s photography is exhibited in the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Art in Kyoto, Japan, and in many regional museums. He has taught photography since 1963, as instructor for Ansel Adams in Yosemite, at his own Victor School, CO, and workshops including those with David Vestal at the Photographers’ Formulary in Montana. He was Education Chairman at Friends of Photography in Carmel, CA and spent many years in a varied career of commercial photography for national publications and major manufacturers.