Rick Norsigian may have bought $200 million worth of Ansel Adams negatives for $45

Rick Norsigian (photo by Craig Kohlruss)

10 years ago, Rick Norsigian bought 65 old glass negatives for $45 from a man who said he bought them at a warehouse sale in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Could these views of Yosemite be the work of Ansel Adams? If they really are, they could be worth as much as $200 million. But there’s the rub — the authenticity is in hot dispute.

Ansel Adams (http://www.temple.edu/photo /photographers/adams/Ansel.jpg)

Ansel Adams (http://www.temple.edu/photo /photographers/adams/Ansel.jpg)

Years ago, someone familiar with Ansel Adam’s work in Yosemite suggested to Norsigian that the negatives could possibly be authentic. That suggestion led to a 10-year quest to authenticate them. Experts at the Smithsonian Institution and the Getty Center refused. Norsigian persisted and hired attorney Arnold Peter to assist him with the process. Peter hired a team of photography, handwriting and meteorology experts, who came to the conclusion that the negatives were authentic. Norsigian and Peter are now trying to cash in by setting up a website, ricknorsigian.com, to sell prints from the negatives, with prices that range from $45 for a poster to $7,500 for a 30″ x 40″ Silver Gelatin Darkroom Print.

Even if it’s ultimately determined that the negatives are authentic, the prints can never be 100% “authentic”. There is an art to printing negatives. The process can be manipulated to achieve different results, so only those prints that were actually printed by Ansel Adams’ own hands are truly authentic. He took the photographs AND printed them.

The opposition is being led by Ansel Adams’ grandson, Matthew Adams, who runs the Ansel Adams Gallery in San Francisco. He points to several inconsistencies as proof they are not the work of his grandfather — mainly several spelling errors in naming the sites pictured in the negatives. William Turnage is the managing trustee for the Ansel Adams Trust that owns the copyright to Ansel Adams’ name. He and Matthew Adams may eventually pursue a lawsuit against Norsigian.

The Jeffrey Pine Tree in Yosemite, one of Norsigian's images

The Jeffrey Pine Tree in Yosemite, one of Norsigian's images

In the meantime, evidence is mounting that the negatives could be the work of other photographers, including Earl Brooks, the uncle of 87-year-old Miriam Walton. Since the 1920s, she has had a photograph on her wall of the Jeffrey Pine Tree, given to her by her uncle. It appears to have been taken the very same day as one of the negatives in Norsigian’s group.

There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary. Brendan Behan, Irish poet and novelist (February 9, 1923 – March 20, 1964). And that certainly seems to be the case regarding these negatives — so far business is good. There is no question about the quality of the photography, only the attribution. Ultimately, it appears that the matter will be decided in the courts.

I recently added over 10 Galle vases to my website, 7 Tiffany lamps, 1 Grueby vase, 1 Newcomb vase, Daum Nancy glass and a fabulous Burgun & Schverer internally decorated vase. This coming week, I’ll be adding many new items. Please take a look. Click on this link chasenantiques.com.

Please send me your comments or questions about art glass, lamps, Louis Icart, shows, auctions, etc. If it’s interesting, I’ll answer you in a future blog.