Ansel Adams’ Relatives and Trust Still Skeptical of Garage Sale Negatives

We reported yesterday that a set of glass plate negatives purchased for $45 in 2000 were verified by a group of experts as being created by Ansel Adams and worth upwards of $200 million.

In response to the article published by CNN yesterday, Ansel’s grandson Matthew Adams published a lengthy response on the Ansel Adams Gallery Blog.

One argument Matthew gives deals with the handwriting found on the material. Although much of the handwriting appears to belong to Ansel’s wife Virginia Best Adams, Matthew does not believe the handwriting matches. Furthermore, the presence of spelling mistakes seems to argue against this:

Virginia had lived in Yosemite every year of her life, and at the time of the darkroom fire, she was 33 years old. Virginia was an intelligent, well read young woman, enjoyed Yosemite and the outdoors, and it is inconceivable to me that she would misspell any Yosemite place names.

He goes on to question why Adams would forget about a set of negatives, when the photographer was known for his attention to detail:

What is less clear is how Ansel would have let negatives get out of his care, in any circumstance. Particularly after the fire, Ansel was very careful about his negatives. He kept them in a bank vault in San Francisco, and would go to the bank to pull a negative to work with. How 61 negatives could get out of his possession is hard to fathom.

In concluding his post, Matthew argues that the burden of proof remains on the owner of the negatives, a 64-year-old painter in Fresno, California named Rick Norsigian, and the team of “experts” that Norsigian hired to authenticate the negatives.

It is my opinion that with an artist of the stature of Ansel Adams, the burden of proof is on Mr. Norsigian and his team, and that the level of proof should be at a minimum “certainty”. This is based on the fact that a positive or negative conclusion is made for posterity, and therefore becomes a part of the legacy of Ansel Adams.

PDNPulse reports that Bill Turnage, the managing director of the Ansel Adams Rights Trust (which holds the rights to Adams’ name and work), has gone a step further by calling the negatives “an unfortunate fraud”. Turnage says that he has considered legal action to prevent prints made from the negatives from being sold under Ansel Adams’ name.

Rick Norsigian has spent years trying to prove the authenticity of the negatives, and has created a website through which he is selling prints for $7,500 a pop.

What are your thoughts regarding this situation and the authenticity of the negatives?

Update: CNN is on this story now. According to their article, Turnage went even further with his words, calling the other side “a bunch of crooks” who “are pulling a big con job.” Interesting…

  • Eamonn

    wait, so the artist has “has spent years trying to prove the authenticity of the negatives”, yet they were bought in 2010 for $45???

  • Michael Zhang

    Whoops. Typo. It should say 2000 rather than 2010. We've corrected the mistake, thanks!

  • Eamonn

    haha, no prob. keep up the good posts!

  • martini

    The plates themselves might be worth something, but the prints are pretty much worthless without Ansel's darkroom skills.

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  • Macpics

    If the negatives are the work of Ansel Adams, wouldn't his heirs own the copyright? Did Ansel sign over the copyright to someone else? Doesn't the current holder of the negatives have to produce written proof that he owns the copyright? If he cannot provide proof, doesn't the copyright stay with the creator of the images?

  • darkroom

    martini has it right, withou them being printed By AA or using his instructions, what is the value?

  • Alana

    $200 million. I just have to laugh. As a semi-pro photographer and art history fan. Could all of the legitimate, singed Ansel Adams photographs in the World put together be worth $200 million??

    The art history significance of this “discovery” (which I doubt as legitimate given what I have heard about Ansel's OCD with his negatives) is akin to finding a paint brush once used by Picasso.

  • Glb44

    the images posted above seem mediocre and banal,hardly worthy of AA or any major photographer… Uncle Earl seems about right!

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  • Thomas Casey

    How can you prove you made a negative? I don’t think it’s possible unless it has your signature on it.

  • Thomas Casey

    Adams was already famous in the days when you could buy the same equipment that he used, the same film and the same viewpoint. The pictures could have been taken in the 50’s by an admirer trying to emulate the master.