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Backpacker Magazine – November 2011

Ansel Adams's Lost Photos?

David Howard investigates the mystery of 61 black-and-white negatives that are stirring up a hornet's nest of accusations, threats, and lawsuits.

by: David Howard

Rick Norsigian (Photo by Craig Kohlruss)
Rick Norsigian (Photo by Craig Kohlruss)
Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley
Ansel Hall at Glacier Point
Ansel Hall at Glacier Point
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Within weeks, Moeller, the Team Norsigian expert, announced he had changed his mind. He allowed it was possible, after talking to one of Adams’s former assistants, that someone else—quite possibly Earl Brooks—had created Norsigian’s negatives. (Alt, the large-format photographer who also contributed to the report, stands by his original opinion.)

Things continued to backslide for Norsigian. Several California newspapers reported that David Streets was a convicted felon with a record for petty theft in Louisiana and Kentucky. Though the Beverly Hills art dealer claimed to have 25 years of experience, a gallery owner in New Orleans asserted that Streets had no appraisal background when she hired him in 2000.

All of this happened within a few weeks. And then, less than a month after the release of the Lost Negatives report, the Ansel Adams Trust sued Norsigian for trademark infringement. Still, plans for a public exhibition at Streets’s gallery continued. Streets, undaunted, opened the show on September 25, telling me on the phone in advance that the prints were “beyond spectacular.” At the unveiling, Streets wore a tailored suit with a pocket square. One entire wall held portraits of celebrities smiling next to Streets. In one, Alec Baldwin wore a wary grin.

During the first few hours, only a handful of people came in. One left after giving the 16 prints a perfunctory look. Another lingered, and Streets began to talk loudly about how big the find was, and how much interest it had generated. Sensing a sympathetic audience, Streets confided that he and Norsigian had both received death threats. (Asked later for elaboration, he would only offer, “People will say and do the craziest things.”)

Norsigian was in Fresno that day at a family baby shower. He later said he’d never been threatened. But he acknowledged that the whole effort had derailed in bizarre fashion. “So you understand, I have no control over, or say in, a lot of whatever different things have been going on,” he says. “I’m just as surprised as anyone.”

Patrick Alt, the large-format photographer, published a letter online in the aftermath of the press conference. He wrote of Norsigian, “A more honest and honorable guy would be hard to find. This quest has always been centered on finding the truth.”




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