With all the publicity about the alleged "Ansel Adams" pictures bought by Rick Norsigian at a Fresno yard sale over the past few days, the real identity of the pictures may have come to light.
KTVU Channel 2 in Oakland broke the story on its evening news last night. As soon as a local woman named Miriam I. Walton saw the pictures, she recognized them as her Uncle Earl's. Earl Brooks was a lifelong resident of Fresno, where the 65 negatives were found, and often photographed at Yosemite. Mrs. Walton has four of his prints, one of which is nearly identical to one of the Norsigian pictures, with the same shadows and what look to be the same clouds after a few minutes of movement.
The evidence is as yet preliminary, but I hereby place my "all in" bet that the Rick Norsigian glass plates turn out to have been taken by "Uncle Earl" Brooks. (Even if they aren't, I'll still bet they're not by Adams. They just don't look like him to me.)
You can read the story and see the video here.
I might add that KTVU Oakland has restored my shaky faith in the news media somewhat. Finally—a little actual reporting, instead of the endless repetition of a story that would be so very appealing if only it were true.
...Oh, and it looks like Uncle Earl is having a one-man show in Beverly Hills!*
(Thanks to Brian Vahey)
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by john robison: "So...forty-five dollars is about it then?
"Here is a true story, not as dramatic and more common but still keen.
"Sitting at home and the phone rings. It's a friend who has bought a camera bag at a yard sale for $5 that has 'some old film camera stuff in it' and would I take a look. Sure, say I and drop by for a look. It's a Voigtlaender Prominent with 35, 50, and 100mm lenses and surprise surprise it works! There were a few light swipe marks on the front elements but I still managed to sell the kit for her for $600 to a guy who buys for Japanese collectors. You shoulda seen the look on her husband's face when I got back from the camera show and handed him the cash."
Featured Comment by Jeff K.: "I have been fascinated by this story all week. From what I have seen so far I don't believe that the images are Ansel's, but the Uncle Earl case hasn't been made too well yet either.
"One things that hasn't been talked about is how Ansel made a lot of money in the beginning of his career—selling large numbers of prints of Yosemite cheaply. In his biography (Alinder) it mentions that at one point he made $10,000/year selling prints of his work developed by an assistant out of the Yosemite lab. The price was just $1 each, or three for $2.50. (Can you imagine!!)
"Since we haven't seen any other work still in Uncle Earl's family or any actual negatives from him, another possibility comes up. Maybe he bought the print of the Jeffrey Pine on a trip to Yosemite and liked it so much he had it framed. Who knows, but it is possible.
"That said, the case made by Adams' grandson is the most compelling case against the negatives being Ansel's. You can see it on the official Ansel Adams gallery website. It was enough to convince me despite what I wrote above.
"It is also worth mentioning that prints done by an actual assistant of Adams are still being sold there for under $250, from Adams' original negatives. I don't care how unique they are; where does Norsigian get off trying to sell prints from these for $7500 apiece?"
Featured Comment by Patrick Alt: "I was and am one of the people who was contracted by Rick Norsigian and his law team to help in the evaluation of these negatives. I want to state up front that I have absolutely no financial stake in this work or subsequent sales and have only my integrity to base my conclusions as to the veracity of these negatives. Admittedly, I am somewhat perplexed as to the Uncle Earl print, but there is a great deal of additional evidence about these negatives that Uncle Earl's place in this saga does not overturn. I have held each one of the 65 negs in my hand, have examined them with knowledge of his equipment, the people he photographed in these negatives, all of whom were known by him, Virginia Adam's handwriting, the fire damage, and last but not least is they look like his work. The first time I saw them, I immediately and viscerally knew this to be his work. But this aspect of my evaluation is a subjective opinion on my part and could not be quantified. However, the rest of the evidence is overwhelming and it is still my opinion that these are Ansel's work.
"To clarify some misunderstandings, these pieces were not originally found in Fresno, Earl's home, but in Los Angeles by the original seller. Ansel's teaching at Art Center in the early '40s puts these negs where Ansel was. Did Earl ever make it to L.A.? That is but one question that needs to be addressed. What equipment and format was Earl's print made from? Also, was Earl a member of the Sierra Club at this time and if he was, he would have known Ansel, so perhaps they both went photographing together. After all, Ansel was only 20 years old when the Jeffries Pine image was made, hardly the master he would grow to become. There are several scenarios that could explain the similarity of these two images, but it does not cancel out all of the other evidence found to support the authorship of this work to be Ansel's."