Ansel Adams or Not

Fellow appraiser Francine Proulx, ASA, ISA AM sent me an interesting article from the NY Times on a box of glass photo negatives purchased 10 years ago at a yard sale for $45.00. The story has all that we have come to expect, and perhaps even more from these yard sale "discoveries".

We have the dealer/appraiser with background issues and who states he is “Los Angeles’s leading appraiser of all genres of fine art and celebrity memorabilia.” , there are attorneys involved, claims of the negatives being by Ansel Adam (or at least the "sort" produced by Adams) and worth $200 million, Adams grandson saying they are not by Adams and that the authentication was more of a scam, as well as claims they are actually by an amateur photographer.

It would be hard to make this stuff up.

The art debate has its roots in Mr. Norsigian’s purchase of the box of negatives, a rummage-sale find that took on a new light when he later noticed in an Adams biography that certain features of the plate-glass negatives he bought, which depict California landscape scenes from Carmel, Yosemite and around San Francisco, seemed to match events in in Adams’s life. In particular, the plates showed evidence of fire damage, and in 1937 Adams lost negatives to a darkroom fire.

“The size, the fire damage, the locations and different stuff like that,” Mr. Norsigian said. “I kept researching little pieces at a time.”

He took his discovery to members of the Adams family, who disputed his claims. Adams had been notoriously protective of his negatives, locking them in a bank vault when he lived in San Francisco. Would he misplace a box of negatives?

“Ansel would never have done something like that,” said William Turnage, managing trustee of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust, which owns the rights to Adams’s name and work.

But in 2007 Mr. Norsigian and Mr. Peter, his lawyer, set about organizing an authentication team that included a former F.B.I. agent, a former United States attorney, two handwriting experts, a meteorologist (to track cloud patterns in the images), a landscape photographer and a former curator of European decorative arts and sculpture for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

They concluded, without question, that the prints were of the sort made by Adams as a young photographer in the 1920s.

Mr. Peter said he decided to market the materials through Mr. Streets, whom he did not know but whose work as a dealer he was aware of. Mr. Streets, who moved to California from New Orleans in 2005, bills himself as “Los Angeles’s leading appraiser of all genres of fine art and celebrity memorabilia.”
To read the full article, click HERE.

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