Ansel Adams is one of the most famous landscape photographers known around the world. He is best known for countless, perfectly balanced black and white images of the Yosemite Valley, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and many more iconic national parks and landscapes throughout America. He set the standard of landscape photography presented as fine art to this very day.
I had the pleasure of going on a road trip across America with my wife and seeing the natural wonders that we take for granted. Before the trip, I spent months reading about the “best” photography spots to shoot in Yosemite. I prepped myself and ensured that I had all of the right gear and necessary time to shoot the locations I wanted.
The time came! I will always remember the feeling I felt standing at Tunnel View with my camera. Stopping, I took the time to look outside the viewfinder and take in all of its magnificence. I remember saying to myself, “Wow, this is what must have been going through Ansel’s mind.”
The experience standing under the Milky Way Galaxy in the Grand Canyon and before Half Dome at Glacier Point really sets you in your place. You feel like all of your problems and the problems we face in this world are simply… insignificant.
Once the trip at Yosemite was finished, I wanted to take one of his images back home with me. In the Yosemite Village, along with other shops and restaurants, is the Ansel Adams Gallery. A store which, I’m told, is run by Ansel Adam’s family.
I went in and immediately felt like a kid in a candy store. His original prints hung on the wall along with other prints by great photographers, like Anne Larson and John Sexton, who were inspired by Ansel Adams’ work.
Prices of Ansel’s work varied. Some images were $25. Others were $300-$500. Then Ansel’s original prints… tens of thousands of dollars. Now, I’m on a budget. I couldn’t come afford to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a print. $22.50 sounded like a better deal. And, it was already matted!
What a deal! So I looked through the collection of images and I found one of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park that instantly caught my eye.
I ask the sales associate,
“So… What’s the difference between this print, the $350 print, and the $30,000 print on the wall?”
The sales rep replies,
“Uh… well… there must have been a defect during the printing process. Which explains why it’s pretty cheap.”
“Ok…,” I reply.
I carefully inspect the image trying to find any defects in it. Other than the splattered bug in the mat, everything looks good! I can get a mat replacement pretty cheap back home!
“I’ll take it!”
At the register I find out the image is 70% off. Jackpot! $6.00 for an Ansel Adams image!? It can’t get better than that! I request to get it shipped. It’s an additional $16.00. Bummer… okay… No big deal!
“Ship it. I don’t want it to get damaged while we’re on the road trip!”
After getting home, the print was in my parent’s possession for safe keeping while we were on the road. I mean, C’mon… I don’t want to ruin a $6 Ansel Adams print!
Another week later, I take it to the local Hobby Lobby to get a new mat. I request a black mat with a white bezel. The frame technician takes the two mats and begins to do the cutting. He then proceeds to take my image and tape it to the mat.
Lo and behold… my eyes must be deceiving me… is that… is that a calendar, specifically the month of June, on the backside of my print!?!?
The initial moment of complete disbelief quickly turned into sheer embarrassment as the framing technician stood next to me patiently waiting for me to return to reality.
I ask the gentleman next to me, “Uh.. is that a calendar on the back of that image?”
“Yeah… I wasn’t sure if that was right. I wasn’t going to say anything,” the tech nervously replied.
I felt bad that the guy wasted his time on cutting the mats to fit my calendar picture. I quietly took the frame, mat, and my calendar page to the front, paid, and left.
Now that I have left, my embarrassment has turned into anger. I had never felt so cheated in my life. I get it… The image is still beautiful and I never intended on any return on investment on this image, but I felt so dumb. How could THE Ansel Adams Gallery do this?
I contact the gallery to complain of the fraud. I explain my discovery to the gentleman and his initial response is “Oh… you got one of those reprints.” This is a red flag that:
- The staff knew about it.
- They’ve dealt with calls like this before.
- People were lied to when they asked what they were getting with this purchase.
He explains that he is just the guy at the register and does not have any say of what content is put on the shelves. He goes on to say that the manager is not in the office and to call her the next day or email her.
I had low expectations for this image. By all means, the most I expected from this image was to have the name of a common drugstore printed on the back. Heck, a post card would have looked nicer than an 8.5×11 sheet of paper with Lake McDonald printed on it.
I then check the label on the plastic wrapping of my calendar page… “Recycled Product.” I guess you have your legal angle covered.
After 30 seconds worth of research, I discover that I’m not the only person that has been duped. A Yelp.com user by the name of Conrad J had a very similar experience. At this point, it occurs to me that this is their business practice!
From a business standpoint, it’s pretty smart. You have figured out how to reuse inventory of last year’s calendar with images on it that can’t be resold. So… mat it up, seal it and sell it as a print as a “Recycled Product.” But, from a consumer’s point of view, you use a play of words and sell it off as a print. That is very unethical.
I haven’t talked to the manager yet and I don’t expect anything from this other than a full refund and a disappointing, scam-like, experience from a well-respected gallery.
Yosemite and the Ansel Adams Gallery, I leave you with one question to ask yourselves…
What would Ansel Adams think of you if you indeed have a business practice of deceiving people into thinking they are buying one of his prints only to find a page from a calendar that didn’t sell the year before?
About the author: Bill Manning is a part-time photographer in Atlanta, GA. Working in Information Technology, he developed a passion for digital photography and spends most of his free-time reading and experimenting with different types of photography. When he’s not looking through the viewfinder, he enjoys traveling with his wife and spoiling his cats. Visit his website here. This article originally appeared here.
Image credits: Header photo of the Ansel Adams Gallery by Jacky Cheong