Ansel Adams' Negatives Found in a Garage Sale--Maybe

adams find photo

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We are always extolling the virtues of garage sales; the joy of recycling and re-using and respecting perfectly good finds. And then there is the joy of Ansel Adams' photography: he was one of the original environmentalists who understood the beauty and inspirational quality of nature. Imagine these two coming together: a man in California bought a box of old negatives at a garage sale ten years ago for $45.

Now it turns out that the 65 glass plates may be Adams' negatives and worth $200M ... or not.

boat adams photo

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Ansel Adams was the father of American photography. Working in the western states of the USA from the 1930's until his death in 1984, he loved and photographed the scenery of Yosemite National Park and the natural beauty of the wilderness. He was passionate about the environment and way ahead of the times in his causes: the preservation of wilderness, fighting for new wilderness areas, saving the redwoods, endangered sea lions and sea otters, clean air and water. He fought against overbuilt highways, billboards and turning parks into resorts with private concessionaires.

The glass negative plates were taken between 1919 and 1930, during a period when most of his work was later destroyed by fire.

But are they the garage find of the year or not? As always in the art world, nothing is certain.

The happy owner, Rick Norsigian, a painter and construction worker, has had them authenticated. The handwriting on the manila envelopes was verified by 2 handwriting experts to be that of Adams' wife. The clouds in the photos have been matched by meteorologists to those of existing photos. The negatives are the same size and the locations are similar.

But...Adams' grandson is skeptical and calls the evidence to date "circumstantial at best" and "hopeful suppositions." They have not yet been analysed by any specialists. A trustee of the artist's work calls it "an unfortunate fraud" and says "We don't think they look like Ansel's work. Do you have any idea how many people were photographing Yosemite in the 1920s and 1930s? Millions! It could be anyone." The handwriting validation is questioned because there are spelling mistakes in place names which are surprising.

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Image from the owner Rick Norsigian

The cloud claim is considered dubious because they are of a shape that appears all the time.

Carbon dating of the envelope that was found and the charred edges of the plates has been suggested but there has been no follow-up on that idea.

mountain photo photo

Image from National Post

The real value comes from having the photographs printed by the artist but there will be a show in the autumn at a gallery in California.

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