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Monthly Archives: May 2012

A few years ago, I read a book called “I Bought Andy Warhol”—a book written by an art dealer who had bought and sold many Andy Warhol paintings over the years, but eventually decided he wanted a Warhol to keep.  A lot of the book had to do with the “almost Warhol’s” floating around the world—bad prints, or unsigned proof prints lifted by assistants—all available on the edges of the art market.  Eventually, he decides that he wants a real Warhol, and travels to a warehouse where Warhol’s estate is kept and buys a painting, which is then stamped by the executor of the estate, and the transaction carefully recorded—making it a “real” Warhol.

Real” Ansel Adams prints are currently selling for several thousand to several tens of thousands of dollars per print, well beyond my comfort level as a collector.  So for a long time, I assumed that I would never own an Ansel Adams print—I’ve seen plenty on the walls of galleries and museums, I know the power of his printing, but I don’t find his mythical wilderness to be a vision I want to invest heavily in.

However, a few weeks ago, a group of small photographs by Ansel Adams appeared for sale on e-bay, all stamped on the back “From Virginia and Ansel Adams, Operating Best’s Studio, Inc, Yosemite National Park, California”.  Several of the images were inscribed on the back in pencil in handwriting that may have been from Ansel Adams himself, although none of the images were signed.  I managed to purchase one of the images.

Ansel Adams had many assistants who worked for him over the years—and has sold many prints made by these assistants at very low prices—they were intended to be low cost, high quality prints for the general public to purchase.  In 1938, when his wife inherited Best’s Studio, he sold small ones for $1.00 or 3 for $2.50—larger ones for $1.50  or 3 for $4.00, printed by his assistant Ronald Partridge, the son of Imogen Cunningham (information from Ansel Adams, A Biography, by Mary Street Alinder, 1996, page 140).  Based on the stamp, it seems likely that the print is of that vintage.

Ansel Adams, Yosemite Park, 1930s?

I like the image I purchased for several reasons—it is a well crafted image—the exposure of the negative and the print are extremely well controlled, the time of day and the angle of the light, the presence of the cloud above the cliff, the framing with the two trees, and the power of the flow of the waterfall all indicate the care with which the image was made.  But I especially enjoy the foreground—a road with a single line painted down the middle, a small pull-out for a car to park, a road sign, not to mention the fact that the road is designed to provide a dramatic view of the falls.  Many of Ansel’s pictures were made from the road, but few include it’s presence.

I have no idea if I paid too little or too much for the photograph—nor do I really care (although my wife might).  I’m happy to have an example of his work in my collection, even if it isn’t signed, and probably wasn’t printed by him.   I’ll frame it later today, and hang it in my home, maybe next to the Walker Evans prints from the Library of Congress.