Lost Ansel Adams?

The claim by Richard Norsigian that the 60 glass negatives he bought at a garage sale nearly ten years ago from a man in Fresno are lost images by Ansel Adams is attracting a lot of attention in the press.  The negatives, which Norsigan bought for $45, having haggled with the seller who wanted $60 are said to be worth $2 million. Experts are said to have identified the handwriting on the negative envelopes as that of Ansel’s wife Virginia, and the evidence of a meteorological expert and others is said to confirm they are by Adams.

You can see some of these pictures for sale on the Lost Negatives web site, yours for $1500 for a 24×30″ digital print. Looking at them I’m not convinced that they show the same interest as the known work of Adams; if they are by him they were surely in the main his rejects, and it is hard to believe that he would not have destroyed at least some of them.

But truly the last thing we need is more Ansel Adams pictures. Not only did he take rather a large number – of which a small few are works of considerable power and majesty and most are frankly rather on the boring side, but thousands of other photographers have gone out and taken Ansel Adams pictures too. Sometimes I have this image of queues of photographers lining up with their 10×8 view cameras to try to faithfully replicate his once unique vision of the Californian landscape.

So I’d really like to see some kind of mechanism for losing much of Mr Adams’s work rather than anyone coming up with more. The true finds of his work that are interesting are those that show a different side of his photographic mind, such as the many pictures by him in the Los Angeles Public Library, pointed out by Gerard Van der Leun on American Digest in 2006 (and reposted in 2009) which you can find by putting the photographer’s name in either the photographer or keyword fields in the LAPL search page.

Back to those Norsigan images. The grandson of Ansel Adams believes the claim that they were by Adams to be false and has given some reasons. Although Norsigan may genuinely believe they are by Adams it seems to me that he may not be entitled to market them as such without the permission of the Ansel Adams estate, who may have some title to the use of the photographer’s name.  And if they are genuinely the work of Adams, surely the copyright would still lie with the Ansel Adams estate except in the case of images taken before 1923, although the Digital Millennium Copyright Act 0f 1998 is not entirely clear on the status of unpublished images.

One Response to “Lost Ansel Adams?”

  1. The mystery now appears to have been solved by KTVU.com and you can watch a clip and read the story on their site.

    A woman living in Oakland saw the pictures on KVTU news and recognised them as pictures taken by her uncle Earl Brooks in 1923. Two views of the famous Jeffrey Pine are from the same position with near identical shadows but different clouds, suggesting they were taken within minutes of each other.

    I don’t think this work is really going to make Earl Brooks famous either.

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