July 28, 2010 / 2:04 AM / 7 years ago

U.S. painter's find of Ansel Adams negatives in dispute

4 Min Read

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - A school district painter appeared to have struck lucky after 65 glass negatives he bought for $45 at a garage sale were judged the work of American nature photographer Ansel Adams valued at $200 million, but Adams' family has cast doubt on the find.

Rick Norsigian bought the negatives at a garage sale in Fresno, California, about 10 years ago, bargaining the seller down from $70.

He kept them under a pool table at his home initially and then in a safe deposit box at a local bank when he realized they might be valuable.

His hunch appeared to have been right and the negatives, showing black and white images of Yosemite National Park, Fisherman's Wharf and other scenes in San Francisco, were this week declared by a Beverly Hills art appraiser to be the work of Adams and worth around $200 million.

"When I heard that (figure), I got a little weak," Norsigian told reporters.

However the head of the Ansel Adams Gallery, Matthew Adams, who is the late photographer's grandson, was skeptical of the claim, and said in a statement that he was not convinced after being presented with evidence by Norsigian's team last year.

"I think it's irresponsible to claim that they're Ansel's. We think it's a very significant claim and we think it's not accurate," he told AOL News,

Bill Turnage, managing trustee of Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust, called the Norsigian negatives a "scam."

Norsigian, who has set up a website for the negatives www.lostnegatives.com, said a team of experts spent about a year authenticating the negatives and believed the compositions were taken between 1919 and the early 1930s.

Several of the negatives were charred on the edges after a fire damaged Adams' darkroom in 1937. These negatives were previously believed among about 5,000 plates lost in that fire in which destroyed about one-third of Adams' portfolio.

Two handwriting experts also confirmed that handwriting on the envelopes in which the negatives were found belonged to Adams' wife Virginia.

But Matthew Adams said the handwriting attributed to Virginia included some spelling mistakes for commonplace names in the Yosemite National Park which would not have been made by a woman raised in Yosemite.

He also disputed the $200 million price estimate, saying prints were far more valuable than negatives and the record price for an Adams print at auction was $720,000.

Adams also found it unlikely that his grandfather would have lost track of these negatives.

Norsigian's lawyer Arnold Peter told media that they were confident the negatives are authentic.

Norsigian said the value of the negatives was only part of the appeal. "This to me is so gratifying to have a piece of history to share this with everyone and to kind of prove that well, maybe, a construction worker/painter can be right," he said.

"But I'm just glad everything has worked out and we get to celebrate Ansel Adams' kind of rebirth."

Adams was known for his black and white landscapes mainly in the western American states. He died in 1984 at the age of 82.

Reporting by Reuters Television, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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