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Did Ansel Adams take these photos? Are they worth $200 million? Depends who you ask

July 27, 2010 |  8:38 pm

RickNorsigian Rick Norsigian, the antiques buff who bought a couple of boxes of old-fashioned glass-plate photographic negatives at a garage sale 10 years ago in Fresno, then set out to prove they were taken by Ansel Adams early in his career, is back in the news.

Norsigian and his advisors laid out what they say is conclusive proof Tuesday in a packed news conference at a Beverly Hills gallery whose owner, David W. Streets, is on a team that has appraised the potential value of the 65 negatives at more than $200 million.

As Norsigian, who hasn't given up his day job painting school buildings and classroom walls for the Fresno school district, begins selling prints of 17 of the images on his website -- at $7,500 a pop for darkroom prints, $1,500 for digital reproductions and $45 for posters -- the Ansel Adams establishment is far from sold.

Norsigian_Collection045-7_22 Counting themselves skeptical at the very least are Matthew Adams, the photographer's grandson, and William Turnage, Ansel Adams' business manager for 12 years before his death in 1984, and now the chief trustee whose OK publishers, poster-makers and the like need if they want to use Adams' images.

They doubt that Adams took the pictures of Yosemite National Park, the San Francisco waterfront, Carmel mission and Point Lobos that were in Norsigian's find. What's more, they and some leading dealers in Adams prints say, it almost doesn't matter if Adams did take the pictures -- his archive at the University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography already houses 44,000 others, so what's the big deal about another 65?

Turnage says Adams printed only about 1,500 photographs in all, printing only the ones he himself thought worthy. Dealers say it's the original, artist-made prints, not the negatives, that count when you're talking about value.

Buy one of the Norsigian prints (like the one pictured here of falls in Yosemite), his critics say, and you'll be getting either something Adams had nothing to do with or, at best, a second-hand interpretation by somebody else -- good only for its decorative value and not truly an original work of art. For the full story, click here

-- Mike Boehm

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Photos: Rick Norsigian, pictured in 2006 holding a glass-plate photographic negative of Yosemite Falls that experts he hired now say is one of 65 authentic Ansel Adams images he bought at a garage sale; another Yosemite image from Norsigian's find. Credits: Robert Durrell/Los Angeles Times (top); Rick Norsigian Collection (bottom).

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