Will the Real Ansel Adams Please Stand Up?

Posted by David Ozanich — 10 Nov 2010

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You've probably heard about that whole "lost Ansel Adams negatives found at a garage sale" story. A fellow by the name of Rick Norsigian found a bunch of old negatives at a yard sale and after having some fancy photography folks check them out announced that they were undiscovered Ansel Adams photographs of Yosemite. Then a 87-year old came forward saying she thought the photos were taken by her uncle, Earl Brooks, since they looked just like a photo she had in her bathroom. Meanwhile, the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust and the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona (which Adams helped found in 1975 and archives much of his work) both announced that these photos were most certainly not the work of the famed landscape photographer. However, Norsigian's group of forensic experts respectfully begged to differ.

Well, the plot thickens according to this great story on the whole hullabaloo from today's New York Times:

Now Melinda Pillsbury-Foster says her grandfather Arthur C. Pillsbury, a well-known photographer of the period, should be added to the list of possible creators of the images of Yosemite park and the Northern California coast that Mr. Norsigian bought a decade ago.

Ms. Pillsbury-Foster said she was contacted by Mr. Norsigian several years ago, had reviewed his images and had found their quality and style reminiscent of her grandfather's work.

"There was nothing there to suggest that my grandfather wasn't the photographer," she said. With the help of a Chicago photograph collector, she says she has since found photos credited to her grandfather that resemble pictures from Mr. Norsigian's collection.

That's an Arthur C. Pillsbury image above.

The real problem with all of this speculation is that Yosemite is so oft-photographed that it's hard to figure out just who took certain photos. Case in point, the Scott Nichols Gallery in San Francisco is currently hosting "An Illustrated View of Yosemite" with works by some of the photographers in question, as well as several others.

And now things are ending up in court:

This week the Adams trust and Mr. Norsigian will face off in federal court, where the trust has filed a trademark violation suit because Mr. Norsigian has been selling prints of the images, though with a disclaimer that the work is sold "as is," without trust authentication.
Check out the whole article here. They also have an informative slideshow with lots of the photos in question. Below, a verified Ansel Adams. 090730anseladams.jpg

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