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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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And ultimately, wouldn’t that be for the best? Stop thinking for a moment about who made the negatives and imagine what it took to capture these images in the 1920s. The glass negatives were heavy and notoriously fragile, the cameras bulky. And a photographer had to lug everything for many miles up rough, fiercely steep terrain to get images like the one taken at Glacier Point. Whoever captured these scenes had to be a serious outdoorsman who was uncommonly dedicated to his mission.

It’s impossible to know what Ansel Adams himself would make of the controversy. But it’s not hard to imagine that he would have been pleased by one aspect of all this: Nearly a century later, you’re looking at beguiling images of his favorite place on earth, and people who have never been to Yosemite can look at these photographs and be moved.

So that looks like the end of Norsigian’s quest: Climber cliffs out, sees summit is utterly out of reach. Snaps stunning photo, descends. Such a tidy ending might be a relief: Last fall, at the height of the chaos, he conceded, “To tell you the truth, the only thing I want is my old life back.”

But not so fast.

When I speak to Norsigian in August 2011, he is back on the scent, and more excited than ever. He is in serious discussions with an important authority on Ansel Adams, he says—someone he can’t identify yet, but who will help him convince the world, finally and completely, that Adams created his 61 plate-glass negatives.




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