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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.

Rick Norsigian wasn’t looking for any pictures.

He went to the garage sale that day 11 years ago thinking he might buy an antique barber chair he’d heard was available. Norsigian is drawn to stuff like that in a way that’s hard for him to explain. He loves finding old Americana at street fairs and auctions—barber chairs and old-timey service-station pumps and neon signs and huge, hand-cranked coffee grinders—and bringing the objects home and fixing them up and then just breathing the same air with them. “My sister and brother-in-law got me going in this crap, then they quit and I continued,” he says. “It’s a sickness.” He’s standing in the entryway to his house, next to a huge Gilmore Gasoline pump with a Lucky Strike neon sign on top. He shrugs in a way that suggests that he has no real choice in the matter and, in divulging the depths of his predicament, hopes for empathy rather than judgment.

He started more than 30 years ago, and found that he liked collecting so much that his finds began to take over one of the spare rooms in his house, located on a quiet street in his hometown of Fresno, California. Soon, the old things filled up that room, so he used the basement, and when that got stuffed full, he took over some of the other rooms upstairs. His wife, Pam, wasn’t thrilled, but Norsigian kept on buying, until the objects began to push, like the inexorable advance of a superior army, into the kitchen and living room and even the foyer right by the front door. Pam pulled her front lines back to the master bedroom and bath—the only territory in the house she has successfully defended.

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