Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation

Protecting and Preserving All Life -- By Extending Human Vision

Vernal Falls Moment

 “Alleged” Ansel Adams Photograph of Vernal Falls (supposedly printed in 1938) being sold on EBAY for $4,500:
Pillsbury photo from book: “Yosemite And Its High Sierra” by John H. Williams – 1921
These are two shots of Vernal Falls, one supposedly by Ansel Adams, taken in 1936, and another image of the famous falls, taken by Arthur C. Pillsbury,  before it appeared in the book by John H. Williams in 1921.  The 1921 publication was a second edition. 

Pillsbury was a professional photographer.  He not only took photos for sale to tourists, he took photos which would then appear in books.  Authors and editors contacted him with their needs routinely and AC  ensured their needs were met with images which did not appear elsewhere for other purposes.  None of that, "Hey, didn't I see this same photo last year in Eleanor DePlead's book, "The Undying Romance of Yosemite?"   That would have been unprofessional, and AC, with three kids and a wife, was honest, efficient and prompt with filling his orders.  How this worked was explained to me, his granddaughter, by my father, Dr. Arthur F. Pillsbury, who described a shoot which included multiple assignments for shots and others for AC's own use.  

From a letter Dad wrote in 1978.   
" In those early days we never saw Uncle at breakfast, and one of his hired hands was also missing.  The hired hand had put a camera and tripod in a knapsack on his back, and peddled a bicycle up to Mirror Lake to take pictures of tourists standing on a rock that jutted into the Lake.  In early morning Mirror Lake was almost a perfect mirror, and made a most attractive scene with Mr. Watkins in the background.  Uncle had saddled his horse, and Winkey, the pack donkey, and was off to Glacier Point.  Apparently, there was a tour that would take people up to Glacier Point in the afternoon, then dinner, overnight, and breakfast at the Mountain House.  Then, the people would have time to stroll around, visit the Point, and relax before being returned to the Valley.  Uncle would be at the Point to take their pictures on the overhanging rock.  Then, the people were given a card and told that they could see the proofs  after dinner or later.  The evening was always the busiest time at the studio.  Some years later it dawned on me that the object was not so much to get people to buy from the proofs, but to get good crowds into the studio, and to be tempted by the wonderful display of pictures in the studio.  It was efforts such as that that caused Uncle's studio to do more business than Boysen's, Best's, and Foley's combined.  Incidentally, Ellen Boysen and Virginia Best were my sister's closest playmates. 

If there were to be waterfalls in the picture, pictures had to be made in the spring, when the falls were high.  Uncle was never satisfied with his pictures, and was always taking new ones.  This was particularly true as new film and filters came out so that he could get more and better cloud effects.  He might make a decision at a moment, and off we would go.  I remember one trip to Lady Franklin Rock, the best spot for pictures of Vernal Falls.  We were off shortly after breakfast, parked at Happy Isles, and carried all the gear to be there before 10:30 when the shadows at that time of year were just right.  The cameras were all set up, and ready to do, well before 10:30.  Uncle watched, and we kids played until he called that the clouds were right.  Before too long, the cameras were back in their cases, and we were carrying tripods and cases back down the trail. "

AC observed the underserved needs of tourists and designed his business to serve these needs.  

  Compare the above trees to the same trees in the alleged “Ansel Adams 1938” photo …… supposedly made 17 years later.  Notice the lack of tree growth during this 17 year “drought”.   These trees could have been expected to grow and change height.  In a normal environment trees and other flora grows, dies, and so changes in the profile visible from the same point changes with it.  

Here is Charlotte's  EBAY Question and his response concerning the “authenticity” of this Ansel Adams photo:

From: cherangelcat708
To: rtrphoto
Subject: Details about item: cherangelcat708 sent a message about Ansel Adams. Vernal Falls. 1938. Vintage Photograph #110603303178
Sent Date: Oct-30-10 16:44:26 PDT

Dear rtrphoto,

Is the photograph mounted. Is there an actual Ansel Adams signature?

BTW - Your print looks like the controversial NORSIGIAN print of Vernal Falls - (claiming to be made from an Ansel Adams found negative) but FYI: is in fact from an A.C. PILLSBURY negative.

Is yours actually verified by any authority to be by Ansel Adams???

Looks to me that you are selling a $4500 Pillsbury .... but I am no expert.

- Angie
- cherangelcat708

-----Original Message-----
From: eBay Member: rtrphoto
To: [email protected]
Sent: Sun, Oct 31, 2010 9:31 am
Subject: Re: Details about item: cherangelcat708 sent a message about Ansel Adams. Vernal Falls. 1938. Vintage Photograph #110603303178

Dear cherangelcat708,

Dear Angie, If you look at the listing again, you'll see that the image comes with a cover sheet from the Best"s Studio. It is also identified on the verso in a contemporary hand.
Regards, Richard
- rtrphoto

WOW ! …… I am totally convinced.
Let me PAYPAL this “PAL O’ MINE” $4,500 just as soon as I finish PAYPALing my old “PAL O’ MINE” – Rick Norsigian for as many of his “AUTHENTICATED” Ansel ADAMIZED pilfered PILLSBURY’s as I can snatch up before they are all sold out.

Speaking of EBAY and dubious Ansel Adams photos for dummies and dodo birds:   Charlotte is really a very funny lady, but it is true, so there you are.  

Writing on the back of the photo.