Ansel Adams photos found at garage sale

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Two small boxes he bought 10 years ago for $45 — negotiated down from $70 — are now estimated to be worth at least $200 million, according to a Beverly Hills art appraiser.

Those boxes contained 65 glass negatives created by famed nature photographer Ansel Adams in the early period of his career. Experts believed the negatives were destroyed in a 1937 darkroom fire that destroyed 5,000 plates.

via CNN.com.

There Are 17 Comments On This Article.

  1. Yeah, saw this this morning. Awesome.
    I can’t help but wonder if someone will find a flash card in a box at a rummage sale 50 years from now with RAW images from a famous photographer of our time, and cash in for millions.
    Doubtful.
    Another reason why I still love film. You can hold it in your hand.

  2. I highly doubt that Rick Norsigian, the finder of the negatives, will ever see $200 million dollars. He doesn’t own the copyrights to the negatives, the Adams’ estate does.
    However, he is planning on making money from the prints of the negatives. $7500 a piece for a limited edition dark room print.
    http://ricknorsigian.com/norsigian_purchase.html

    • @susan,

      He doesn’t need to hold the copyright to own the physical glass negatives, so he can sell them. He would need to hold the copyright to make and sell “copies”.

      Adams estate MAY have some claim to copyright but ownership of the negs, who knows.

      • @Victor John Penner,
        He isn’t selling the negatives, he is selling prints for $7500 a piece. Is a print considered a copy of the negative?
        If he was selling the negatives themselves then I could see him fetching a lot of money, though I doubt $200 million.

        • @susan,

          Yes, of course it is a copy, I misunderstood the syntax of your post.

          Copyright laws have changed since 1937 and I wouldn’t assume that the rights belong to anyone but the holder of the physical negatives.

          The website and the editions/options makes me a bit sad.

  3. I knew that box went somewhere…

    Well the guy can make quite a bit of money. I would have to refresh my memory to be a 100 percent sure, He’s more than likely is the copyright owner since he owns the negatives.

    Eventhough there is a foundation and they own the majority of Adams work thus they own copyright. The copyright best to my knowledge is only for their works. Sold is sold. Now if they want to offer and purchase which I am sure they will do…more than likely the guy will probably receive a pretty good offer. I am probably wrong though.

    Those that like to view Ansels work should visit the University of Arizona. You can see prints and negatives as long as you arrange to do so in advance. Vist the UA website. I have visited several times. I was fortunate to live in Tucson AZ at the time.

  4. Owning the negatives is not the same as owning the copyright. Just as owning a print of a photo is not the same as owning a copyright. Otherwise anybody could just crank out all the reproductions they wanted of any print they bought, and sell them for profit.

    If the work is unpublished (as seems to be the case) then the copyright remains with the artist and his estate, up to 70 years after the death of the artist. Norsigian would have no right to sell prints.

    From the descriptions of the negatives are being very close to known works, I’m guessing that Adams was simply bracketing or otherwise taking multiple photos to get the one he wanted. These negatives were ones that he chose not to print.

    It’s absurd to suggest that prints made by anyone other than Adams would be equivalent to Adams work. There is a huge amount of darkroom work to go from the negative to the fulfillment of an artist’s vision in the final print.

    • @Alannis,
      I saw this story everywhere and it appears that it’s some kind of PR puff piece since nobody bothered to look into the estimate or the fact that he cannot sell the prints in the first place. Amazing how MSM is working these days.

  5. Wow for only $45 you too can own a poster commemorating the attempt to commercialize on images Adams chose not to print. For more you can buy a print Adams had nothing to do with. Yay!

    I wonder if they will have a cafepress store?

  6. The only problem is that with the original plates, more photos can be made now, thus lowering the value of the ones that were printed in the 30’s. I would hope that these are returned successfully to the Ansel Gallery! Granted, having those plates is an awesome find! I wonder which photos are on those plates? If they are some of Adams’ more predominant ones like Devil’s Tower and Cascade Falls, then for sure make one for yourself then sell the plates back to the gallery!

  7. matthew pace

    @ KenoTy…prints made in the 30s have “Vintage” and original value,especially by the master’s hand. They would not lowered by one made today.

    I would agree with Alannis..copyright would remain with the author or estate.. Copyright lies with the creator of the original work. It can be transferred by contract or at a much later date fall into public domain. He may own the negs but not the right of reproduction.

    I think he has a valuable box of lost negatives for a collector, the estate, or museum. I bet the estate will have real interests in seeing them and perhaps making prints from some. ” The lost prints of Ansel Adams”

  8. Not in a million years are these plates worth that much. It’s a fun story though!

  9. Whoo boy! By all means, the most important questions are how much will those plates will fetch and who owns them?!

    Yes we are a capitalist consumer culture and have long given filthy lucre our most devout worship….but, those plates also have a little something to say about the man and his work, do they not?

    How many photographers today would be willing to hike an 8×10 up the Sierras just to make a photograph? For zero compensation or chance of publication (as was the case when Adams made these shots)?

    Today it’s about the contract, the computer, the unlimited gizmos that supposedly help us to reduce the chance of failure…our attention is increasingly drawn into products rather than outward to the world. Those 37 plates are a reminder of when Ansel’s photography was purely about making art. Call me nostalgic.

  10. BOB WATTS

    An amazing place America! –
    You have been lucky enough to get back some of your history and its the dollars that get the exposure {Pun intended} –
    He who walks through a museum putting a value on the exhibits is missing the point big time –
    Enjoy your heritage – $200 or $200 million, its still irreplaceable –

    Aussie Farang

  11. IRIS WOOLARD

    I OWN A COPYRIGHT WHICH I AM WANTING TO SELL ASAP. I WILL NEGOCIATE ON THE PRICE. COPYRIGHT IS GOOD FOREVER—-IT IS ON A STRIKINGLY BEAUTIFUL , UNIQUE CHILDREN’S PICTURE—-BY WHICH MANY THINGS CAN BE DONE WITH IT TO MAKE A LARGE AMOUNT OF MONEY—–I HAVE THE LIST OF THINGS TO DO WITH IT. KIDS, AND ADULTS, TOTALLY LOVE THIS ART-DRAWN PICTURE! I ALSO HAVE A LIST OF PLACES TO SELL THE MANY THINGS TO DO WITH THE PICTURE. PLEASE ANSWER ME ASAP, OK? I WILL SURELY APPRECIATE IT. MY PHONE IS—-8054862103–24HRS. THANKS, IRIS.