New doubts raised about Ansel Adams glass negatives

The Fresno BeeAugust 16, 2010 

Rick Norsigian captivated the world last month by announcing he had finally proved that 65 glass negatives he found in a yard sale were made by famed photographer Ansel Adams.

One expert put their value at $200 million -- an eye-popping number that landed the Fresno maintenance worker on newspaper pages and TV screens from Australia to Paris.

"How's this for a way to get rich?" chirped CNN anchor Ali Velshi in a July 27 segment portraying Norsigian as an antiques buff who had hit a jackpot.

But experts say the negatives most likely were not made by Adams. And by offering to share profits with those willing to endorse his claim, Norsigian has raised questions about the credibility of his decade-long crusade to authenticate the works.

One Adams expert says Norsigian offered her a cut of the potential proceeds six years ago if she would help prove the negatives were Adams' work.

And David Streets, the Beverly Hills appraiser and art dealer who pegged their value at up to $200 million, stands to make money by selling prints from the negatives. The New York Times on Friday reported that Streets has a criminal record that includes fraud convictions.

At least one other man hopes to get in on the action. Irving Schwartz of Fresno, identified by Norsigian's attorney as the yard-sale seller, said he has information about the negatives that he's willing to reveal to Norsigian -- for a price.

"If there's any potential to make money off them, I'd be interested in making money from them, too," Schwartz said.

All of this uncertainty about the negatives adds to the doubt that Norsigian's find is actually the work of Adams, whose striking landscape photos of Yosemite, Carmel, San Francisco and New Mexico captured the mood of those places with a level of technical skills few others have matched.

Many who knew, worked with or studied Adams -- his former assistants, a biographer, his grandson and the manager of his trust -- say Adams' signature style of composing and framing images, and the quality of light in his photographs, are missing from Norsigian's collection.

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