The act of creation is what keeps an artist going, regardless of the economy, the time of day, or the season for that matter. There are very few artists that are successful from one painting or one photograph, most successful artists are those who kept creating over the course of their lives–a portfolio amassed over decades. The achievement of this portfolio is what in turn leads to greatness. I think it is because of a couple of things, there is a huge body of work there for numerous outlets, but mainly it is because of a mastery of craft that follows along side of the creation process. Ansel Adams is one of those masters. He never stopped creating and more importantly never stopped innovating. He is often referred to as the “Father of American Photography.” There probably isn’t a reader of Outdoor Photographer who doesn’t know who he is and a good part of the non-photographing public knows who he is as well.
Many great artists have left a legacy for the world to enjoy after their passing and others, like Adams, keep resurfacing time and time again more than twenty years later. Rick Norsigian has just materialized as the owner of 65 glass plate negatives that he purchased at a garage sale for $45. The verification of these negatives as true Ansel Adams images has yielded a net worth of $200 million dollars! After reading the story on CNN yesterday I quickly did a search for the owner online and found his website where you can buy limited editon prints of 17 of the original images for $1500 (digital print) or $7500 (silver gelatin print). My initial reaction was one of disappointment. Firstly, because of the capitalization of a master who is no longer alive and then because of a deeper consideration. One of Ansel Adams greatest achievements was his ability to create masterful fine art prints–a craft that is hard to achieve even today. And now to have someone creating and capitalizing on a masters work without at least involving the artist’s foundation seems a bit of a scam. The value of an original ‘Adams’ comes from having his signature on the print so just producing these plates in a modern darkroom without advisement wouldn’t create anything but a large black and white photograph that the uninformed buyer pays a ton of money for.
I may be reading into this a little too much but something seems a bit fishy here. Why not return the negatives to the people who are holding the copyrights to Adams’ work? If you truly had original negatives wouldn’t it benefit you to help the world see the body of work instead of paying close to $10,000 for it unsigned? I want to believe, but there are many others who don’t either, including Ansel Adams’ grandson Matthew Adams. I am interested to see what direction this story heads in the coming weeks. What are your thoughts?