Rick Norsigian, a painter from Fresno, California, bought two boxes containing 65 glass negatives by famed nature photographer Ansel Adams ten years ago. His $45 garage sale find may be worth up to $200 million, says one expert.
"You look at these photographs and they take your breath away," commented Norsigian in a statement. "But it is even more meaningful and rewarding to finally have the leading experts confirm what I believed in my heart when I saw the images for the first time."
David W. Streets, an art dealer who appraised Norsigian's discovery, hosted an unveiling of the photographs at his Beverly Hills, California, gallery on Tuesday.
Historians had long believed these iconic California images of Yosemite, Carmel, and San Francisco, dating from Adams' early career, were destroyed in a devastating 1937 darkroom fire which resulted in the loss of 5,000 negatives.
Taken between 1919 and the early 1930s, the rediscovered images are important for their presentation of the progression of Adams' style and his aesthetic vision.
Notations on the envelopes holding the images appear to be in the handwriting of the photographer's wife, Virginia Adams.
Norsigian says the garage sale owner had told him he bought the boxes from a warehouse salvage in Los Angeles. Photography expert Patrick Alt theorizes that Adams took the images to Pasadena for a photography class he was teaching in the 1940s, and perhaps never reclaimed them from storage.
“In almost all of the photographs, the compositions are virtually flawless, truly being made by a photographer of singular vision and talent,” notes Alt.
The team of experts charged with authenticating the images included Alt and Streets; handwriting experts Michael Nattenberg and Marcel Matley; George Wright, a meteorological expert; Robert Moeller, former Curator of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; former FBI Agent and Section Chief Thomas Knowles; and former Assistant United States Attorney and Legal/Supreme Court Reporter for ABC News, Manny Medrano.
Norsigian is selling limited editions from the collection as dark room prints (gelatin silver photographs made in a darkroom) for $7,500; digital prints for $1,500; and posters for $45, through his Website, www.ricknorsigian.com.
In June, Sotheby's sold the 1938 photograph "Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park" from the Polaroid Collection for $722,500 (including buyer's premium), establishing a record price for the Adams.