As some of you have probably heard, some negatives that may be by Ansel Adams, and which pre-date the 1937 darkroom fire that destroyed all his early negatives, have come to light. Rick Norsigian bought 65 6.5×8.5 inch glass-plate negatives (a size Adams was known to use in the period) at a garage sale, and has gradually come to believe they’re by Adams, and has found experts in relevant fields to agree with him.
The experts place a value of around 200 million dollars on the find, and Norsigian has already started offering 30×40 darkroom prints and smaller digital prints for sale ($7500 for the darkroom prints) from a web site. This makes me very suspicious, of course. Rushing to commercialization is not conducive to figuring out the truth.
Adams’ grandson has given interviews saying he doubts they are by Ansel Adams.
An interesting issue is that two handwriting experts say the writing on the envelopes the negatives were stored in matches Virginia Adams’ (based on samples known to be by her), while the grandson says the writing is not hers. I don’t know what the state of modern handwriting identification is; I don’t know how seriously to take the evidence there.
Extracts from the experts’ reports being used to authenticate the negatives are online. Weirdly, that URL is at a different host than the first link; it appears to go to a Russian design studio. This may mean that business partners have been brought in, I suppose.
In the report itself, and specifically in the extracts from the experts’ reports, there are a number of points that bother me.
Point 8, “THE SIZE OF THE NEGATIVES ARE UNIQUE TO ANSEL ADAMS”, is interesting. And blatantly nonsense. So that doesn’t look good. (Glass dry-plate negatives of a unique size? Does that mean he had them custom-manufactured for him, and a plate holder for the camera too?) (Other references in the document refer to the size and the camera as fairly standard, just not that popular; a 6 ½ x 8 ½ inch Korona view camera.)
Points 2 and 3,
ONE OF THE IMAGES IN THE NORGISIAN NEGATIVES IS VIRTUALLY IDENTICAL TO AN AUTHENTICATED ANSEL ADAMS PHOTOGRAPH
THE LOGICAL CONCLUSION BY THE EXPERTS IS THAT THE TWO VIRTUALLY IDENTICAL PHOTOGRAPHS WERE
also bother me—taking two nearly-identical photos seems very much contrary to how Adams presents himself as working. But I haven’t browsed the actual negative archives at U of A (I think is where they are?) to see how they speak to the matter; and these negatives are much earlier, so he might have done things differently then.
And with regard to #3, Patrick Alt is quoted as saying “AS TO WHETHER THE SPACING BETWEEN THE POINTS OF COMPARISON MAY NOT MATCH, THAT IS EASILY EXPLAINED BY HIS USING A DIFFERENT LENS, WHICH WOULD CHANGE THE SPACIAL RELATIONSHIPS BASED ON THE FOCAL LENGTH OF EACH LENS.” Um, no; the focal length of the lens would not change the spacial relationships. So now I’m questioning Patrick Alt’s overall level of knowledge, and whether I should care what he thinks.
So, one clear conclusion is that this document is amateurish, and has not been carefully reviewed by knowledgeable people.
Now, if in fact these represent not-previously-published works by Ansel Adams—then, for those made after 1922, the copyright is clearly still in force, and I believe would be owned by whoever owns the bulk of his copyrights, probably the foundation or a museum. So, if the claims of the negative finder are true, his actions in selling prints are clearly illegal.
ETA: Or, maybe they’re by Earl Brooks.