Another Disputed Discovery: Are Negatives Really by Ansel Adams?

Ten years ago a Fresno, California, man named Rick Norsigian made a garage sale find of sixty-five negatives which he came to believe were by the famous American photographer Ansel Adams.  Late last month, at a Beverly Hills press conference, he announced experts who had studied the writing on the negative sleeves had identified the hand as that of Adam’s wife — adding considerable weight to Norsigian’s claim.  The estimated value of the negatives if authentic:  $200 million.

But an 87 year-old Oakland woman named Marion Walton, who just happened to have some prints very similar to Norsigian’s in her home and saw a clip of the Norsigian press conference on television, almost immediately disputed the claim.  She thinks the photos were taken by her Uncle Earl.

Today, KTVU TV in Oakland reports that another panel of experts who have examined and compared the Norsigian plates with Ms. Walton’s prints agrees that indeed Uncle Earl — Earl Brooks, who back in the 1920s apparently did a lot of picture-taking in one of Adams’ favorite haunts, Yosemite — was the artist, not Adams.

Norsigian will probably continue to argue his case, but I think at this point we can at least score one for Uncle Earl.

If you’re interested, Greensboro Public Library has a number of books on or by Ansel Adams.  These include:  America’s Wilderness:  The Photographs of Ansel Adams, with the writings of John Muir, edited by Elaine M. Bucher; Ansel Adams:  America’s Photographer; A Biography for Young People by Beverly Gherman (juvenile); Ansel Adams:  A Biography by Mary Street Alinder; Ansel Adams:  Classic Images by James Alinder and John Szarkowski; Ansel Adams:  Letters and Images, 1916-1984, by Ansel Adams, edited by Mary Street Alinder and Andrea Gray Stillman; foreword by Wallace Stegner; Ansel Adams, An Autobiography, with Mary Street Alinder; and Ansel Adams, Our National Parks by Ansel Adams, edited by William A. Turnage and Andrea G. Stillman.

Extraordinary Early Color Photographs of Russia


Prokudin-Gorskii (self-portrait)

I thought the color photographs in this Newsweek slideshow were absolutely remarkable. 

They were taken in Russia between 1907 and 1915 by a man named Sergi Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, who was the Tsar Nicholas’ royal photographer

Prokudin-Gorskii fled Russia after the March 1917 Revolution and his huge collection of glass plates and other materials eventually made their way to the Library of Congress (LOC) where they have recently been digitally restored.  

You can view the LOC’s online exhibit of the images here.  The example below is typical.  

The story made me wonder about the history of color photography, and I found this excellent online article which explains the color filters process used by Prokudin-Gorskii.   

It also made me wonder what Greensboro Public Library might have on the history of photography, and here are a few recent books I thought might be interesting:  The Dawn of the Color Photograph:  Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet by David Okuefuna; Who We Were:  A Snapshot History of America by Michael Williams, Richard Cahan, and Nicholas Osborn; Lincoln Through the Lens:  How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life by Martin W. Sandler; Dorothea Lange:  A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon; North Carolina Then & Now, text and photography by Kevin Adams; Pictures from a Drawer:  Prison and the Art of Portraiture by Bruce Jackson; The Blue and Gray in Black and White:  A History of Civil War Photography by Bob Zeller; Photography on the Color Line:  W.E.B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture by Shawn Michelle Smith; and American Photography by Miles Orvell. 

A Beautiful Russian Scene, ca. 1910

A Beautiful Russian Scene, ca. 1910