Ansel Adams’ message in a bottle

Incoming students at UC Berkeley received a gift of California pride and creative genius when they were given “Fiat Lux” – a collection of iconic photos by Ansel Adams.

In 1963, then-president of the University of California system Clark Kerr commissioned a collection of photographs to celebrate the UC system’s centennial. Published in 1967 — after Kerr had resigned — the book bore the University’s motto as its name (Latin for “let there be light”).

Fiat Lux was first published before most of Berkeley’s incoming freshmen were born, and possibly even some of their parents. The hope is that the book and its images will strike up a dialogue to bond students to each other and their school by encouraging them to think about a future framed by vivid images of the past.

The photos themselves were commissioned during a turbulent time for the UC system, not unlike today’s budget concerns and Occupy protests on UC campuses.

Ansel Adams is truly one of America’s great photographers. The images in Fiat Lux presage modern photojournalism with their technical precision, layered composition and rich environments. Adams, the world’s most honored landscape photographer, was a lot more than that.

Adams’ photographs were considered key in the preservation of the National Parks system — especially our beloved Yosemite — leaving Jimmy Carter to declare “so much of America has been saved for future Americans” when he bestowed upon Adams the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Fiat Lux gift is part of UC’s brilliant “On the Same Page” program. Piloted in 2006, the program seeks to give the campus community a shared intellectual experience.  It’s basically a campus-sized version of One City,One Book.

Original prints from Fiat Lux will be on display at UC Berkeley starting in September.