JOHN SEXTON PHOTOGRAPHY NEWSLETTER
I am sending this “mini-edition” of my email newsletter in response to the scores of emails and voice mails I have received in the past few days, while traveling, concerning the recent media attention concerning a group of 65 glass plates, purchased ten years ago for $45 by a fellow named Rick Norsigian at a garage sale in Fresno, California. These negatives are alleged to have been made by Ansel Adams. The recent “authentication” announcement, and wide spread media coverage, have certainly been fascinating. It is amazing how much attention Ansel, and his photography, commands.
First of all I want to state that I have NOT seen any of the glass plates in question, nor have I seen any actual prints made from those negatives. I have however seen reproductions of many of the images since the first round of media coverage quite some time ago. I have looked at the statements claiming to verify that these negatives were indeed made by Ansel, but personally can find no “proof” to indicate that such is the case.
I do believe these images were made by a talented and competent photographer who, like many photographers then and now, was drawn to photograph places of great beauty like Yosemite. A friend or acquaintance of Ansel might even have made these images.
One of the most revealing pieces of information suggesting that Ansel did not make these negatives is that there are no known prints from ANY of these glass plates, and I personally believe Ansel would have likely printed at least some of these images. In addition, throughout Ansel’s photographic career he was meticulous in the way he handled and stored his negatives. It’s beyond my comprehension that Ansel would have allowed negatives to end up in a storage facility in Los Angeles, when he took such good care of the approximately 44,000 negatives that reside in his archive at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.
I also find it surprising that among the “experts” that the attorney representing Mr. Norsigian assembled there is not a single recognized photographic historian or scholar. As many readers of this newsletter are large format photographers it will come as no surprise that film or plate holders have different methods for securely holding the film, or glass plate, in position. If one had access to these photographic plates, it would be easy to compare the edge artifacts on the plates in question with glass plates that were definitely made by Ansel to see if any of the plates were exposed in the same holders. Plate holders in use during the time frame in question would each have unique characteristics that would easily be visible. Ansel, like virtually all photographers, kept his plate and film holders for a long period of time. As I said... interesting!
I am not along in my skepticism about these images. Matthew Adams, Ansel’s grandson and President of The Ansel Adams Gallery, William Turnage, Managing Trustee of The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust (who referred to situation as “Ansel Scam”), Alan Ross, Ansel’s Photographic Assistant prior to me - who still makes the beautiful Special Editions Prints of Yosemite from Ansel’s original negatives, along with other photographic friends and colleagues, have all expressed doubt that these images were made by Ansel.
Here are a couple of interesting links to check out:
It will be interesting to see what unfolds. Along with the massive amount of attention suggesting Ansel made the 65 glass plates, I found it interesting that “Uncle Earl” Brooks - a photographer from Fresno photographing during the time period in question, might have made them. If you haven’t heard about this possibility, you may want to check out this link:
In the meantime, I would advise people to think carefully before rushing out to order prints from these glass plates thinking you are purchasing a photograph by Ansel Adams. But then again... it might be nice to add a beautiful image by “Uncle Earl” to your collection.
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