Ansel Adams Garage Sale Mystery Apparently Solved

The mystery of the Ansel Adams garage sale negatives keeps taking on new twists, but the latest twist might have solved it once and for all.

KTVU in Oakland is reporting that a Bay Area woman named Mariam l. Walton has come forward with apparently solid proof that the photographs were not taken by Ansel Adams but her Uncle Earl. She was watching KTVU report on the story Tuesday when she suddenly saw a photograph of the Jeffrey Pine on Sentinal Dome and recognized it as a print her uncle Earl Brooks made back in 1923.

You can watch the segment and check out the pictures here.

Upon hearing this story, the fact that the clouds in the two photographs were different made me quite skeptical that the found photo was the same as Uncle Earl’s. However, I decided to investigate a bit further. Here’s a screenshot of Uncle Earl’s photograph shown in the segment:

Now, taking that screenshot and a screenshot of the photo found by Rick Norsigian in Fresno, I used Photoshop’s Auto-Align feature to match up the features in the photograph for comparison. Now here’s Norsigian’s photo aligned with the previous one. You can hover your mouse over it to overlay Uncle Earl’s for comparison:

Although the Jeffrey Pine that stood on Sentinal Dome was a well known landmark and often photographed, the fact that the lighting in the photographs match exactly seem to indicate that the two photos were in fact taken in the same session. Furthermore, notice how the branches and leaves in the two photos seem to match exactly. The uncanny similarity between the lighting and the trees seems to show that Norsigian’s photograph was indeed taken by Uncle Earl.

Keep in mind that we’re doing this comparison based on low resolution screenshots of the two photos. If we had access to the real things, this technique might reveal an even higher degree of similarity.

Oh… and did we mention Uncle Earl lived in Fresno (where the negatives were purchased) and often took photos in Yosemite?

If the photographs are indeed Uncle Earl’s and not Ansel’s, then it would appear that much of the “evidence” that was examined by experts and presented to the public was faked, and that the whole story is indeed a $200 million con.

What do you think?

(via The Online Photographer)

Image credits: Screenshots taken from broadcast by Oakland’s Channel 2

  • Ouzel

    Court records reveal that Mr. Streets, who set the value for the negatives and is handling the related sales, is a convicted felon with a criminal record for petty theft and fraud in Louisiana and Kentucky. Though he says on his Web site,, that he has 25 years of fine-art appraisal experience, two of Mr. Streets’s former employers say his true talent is in the embellishment of his credentials.

    Doris Allen, who owns the Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, says that though Mr. Streets, 45, can be “very charming,” he had said he had no appraisal experience when she hired him at her business in 2000. Now she is amazed to see him occupy an influential role in a national art debate. “How can he get up there and claim that those negatives are worth $200 million?” she said. “That is absurd.”

    Taken for story in New York Times, Saturday 8/14

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  • Teddi867us

    He used several different brands but his formats were 4×5 and 8×10 and he used tri-x film almost exclusively…

  • Teddi867us

    It was PART TECHNIQUE and FILM TYPE He developed the “Zone System” of photography…Something that I used throughout my career…And he used Tri-x film for most of his photos developed in a fine grain developer…HC-110 being one of them…

  • Grumpy


  • Jabog

    What I see is an ordinary picture of a tree. Even if it were Adams work, it’s not a particularly good example of what he was capable of doing.

  • Jorge Fuentes

    These 2 photographs are the same, stop arguing about the difference in the clouds, if anyone has ever tried to shoot an HDR picture with clouds, clouds will move and change shape really fast and thats just shots a few seconds apart, now imagine back in those days where they had to change plate glasses to make a single in between shoots, big difference!

  • ScarlettFeverr

    Having listened to the evidence presented by Ansel’s grandson, I always really doubted they were Ansel’s. There were *many* holes in Norsigian’s case.