SAN FRANCISCO – The controversy over Rick Norsigian's trove of alleged Ansel Adams negatives has reached a fever pitch, with the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust filing a lawsuit to stop the sale of merchandise made from the glass plates — and asserting in the process that the Fresno artist is, in fact, a scam artist.
According to the Associated Press, the Trust is suing for "trademark infringement, false advertising, trademark dilution, and unfair competition," among other crimes, and is demanding that Norsigian and his consulting firm PRS Media Partners cease using Adams’s "name, likeness, and trademark" to sell prints and posters unauthorized by the organization. These include posters that Norsigian is selling on his Web site for $45 (which happens to be the same price he paid at a garage sale for all 65 negatives) and darkroom prints complete with certificates of authenticity for $7,500.
But the "authenticity" of the plates has become increasingly questionable in recent weeks, as even those working for Norsigian have ridiculed his original assertion that the find was worth $200 million. Counterclaims about the provenance of the works — given credence by the Trust in their suit, which was filed in a San Francisco court — emerged when a woman watching TV recognized the images as the work of her uncle, a little-known photographer named Earl Brooks who also worked in Yosemite and coastal California. The authenticators Norsigian relied on for the attribution of the negatives, furthermore, have been largely discredited — with one being outed as an ex-felon.
It remains to be seen whether the suit will influence plans of Beverly Hills gallerist David W. Streets to show Norsigian’s collection next month, but the stakes are certainly high. An Adams print, "Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park," was sold for $722,500 at auction this summer, setting a record for 20th-century photography.
"I'm sure Ansel never would've imagined a scam on this scale," the Adams Trust’s managing director Bill Turnage told the Associated Press. "I never thought it would come to this, but we have to try to do our duty to protect his work and reputation."
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