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Lost Ansel Adams photographs discovered! (and contested!)

Every now and then, serendipity restores lost treasures to us! Serendipity is one of the things in which I believe.

Today, in Beverly Hills, California, David W. Street’s gallery will unveil photographs taken by Ansel Adams between 1919 and the early 1930s. The 65 glass 6.5 x 8.5-inch negatives were purchased by Rick Norsigian, a Fresno painter, 10 years ago in a garage sale. Norsigian paid $45 (negotiated down from $70) for the glass negatives. The negatives were previously believed to have been destroyed in a 1937 studio fire that destroyed 5,000 plates. Plates were individually wrapped in newspaper inside deteriorating manila envelopes labeled with handwriting that was confirmed to be that of Virginia Adams, Ansel’s wife.

The estimated current value of the negatives is $200 million USD.

The photographic negatives show Yosemite landscapes and San Francisco landmarks. Photography expert Patrick Alt believes that Adams brought the negatives with him 70 years ago, when he was teaching in Pasadena, California in the early 1940s. Alt commented on the range of the work, from the very early pictorialist photos of boats, to less successful images, to images of the highest levels of Adams’ work during the period. Nobody know why Adams left the negatives in Pasadena. Most of the negatives were apparently never printed.

Other negatives show Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, a rocky point in Carmel (this photo was removed from CNN’s article, but when I saw it just before midnight last night, it was a photograph of the famous “Lone Cypress,” another image of which [purchased in Ohio years ago] coincidentally hangs over my fireplace – I did not know what it was when I bought it over 20 years ago, but that’s OK, because CNN and the LATimes apparently don’t know what it is NOW! :-) ), San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, a yacht at sea, and an image of sand dunes.

(Note added July 28, 2010: I actually expected this. It would not be California if there were not controversy! Ansel Adams’ grandson, Matthew Adams, and William Turnage, the managing trustee of Ansel Adams’ trust, question the authenticity of the find! At least CNN added back the photo of the Lone Cypress!) :-)

-Bill at

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