Ansel Adams’ Print Dealers Cry Foul on Sale of Negatives

The day after news reports that experts had authenticated glass plate negatives –bought for $45 at a garage sale in Pasadena– as the work of Ansel Adams, dealers of Adams’ prints are casting doubts on the negatives’ authenticity and estimated market value. 

Bill Turnage, managing director of the Ansel Adams Rights Trust, which holds the copyright to Adams’ images and licenses his name and work, tells the AP that he’s considered legal action against Beverly Hills art dealer David W. Streets for using Adams’ name to promote the sale of the negatives. “It’s an unfortunate fraud,” says Turnage. 

Turnage also disputes the value of $200 million which Streets has set on the negatives. A print Adams made sold for $722,500 at auction last year, but Turnage insists the value of such a work is in Adams’ printing techniques, not the negative. “"Ansel interpreted the negative very heavily," he says. "Each print is a work of art."

It may be impossible for anyone to say definitely who created the negatives in question. Rick Norsigian, who bought the collection in 2000, and his lawyer, Arnold Peter, have assembled experts who have declared “"with a high degree of probability" that they were created by Ansel Adams. These experts include art historians, a meteorologist who compared the locations shown in the negatives with some of Adams’ favorite sites,  and handwriting experts who said the notes on the envelopes appear to have been written by Adams’ wife, Virginia.  

On the other side, Turnage and others who have dealt in Adams work and protected his legacy claim that evidence is flimsy at best.  

 

Matthew Adams, the photographer’s grandson and the head of the Ansel Adams Gallery in San Francisco, viewed the negatives last fall. He says, “There is no real, hard evidence. I’m skeptical.”  He says it’s unlikely that his grandfather, who taught in Pasadena during the 1940s, would have misplaced 5,000 negatives or left them in a warehouse. "Ansel was very meticulous about his negatives," says his grandson, who notes that the photographer lost much of his work in a studio fire in 1937. "He kept them in a bank vault in San Francisco after the fire."

Regarding one of the weaker pieces of evidence, Matthew Adams tells AP that he doubts the notes on the envelopes were written by his grandmother because the names of Yosemite sites are misspelled. "She grew up in Yosemite. She was an intelligent, well-read woman. I find it hard to believe she would mispell those names," he says. 

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