Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Lost" Ansel Adams Negatives Bought at Garage Sale for $45

Ten years ago, Rick Norsigian was at a garage sale in California and picked up two small boxes of various items. The seller wanted $70 for the two boxes, Norsigian offered $45. The seller accepted.

Ever since, Norsigian has been trying to convince everyone he met that the 65 glass negatives that were contained in the boxes were shot by Ansel Adams in the early '20s and that they were of scenes the famed photographer never printed–negatives that were thought to have been destroyed in a darkroom fire in 1937.

Well, Norsigian finally succeeded, sort of. Experts have "authenticated" the glass negatives as belonging to Ansel Adams. They are indeed scenes the photographer had never printed they say and could be worth as much as $200 million, if genuine.

But are they? According to the Matthew Adams, Ansel's grandson and head of the Ansel Adams Gallery, writing on a gallery blog, they probably aren't. And the "experts" who have authenticated the plates got it wrong.

Photography expert Patrick Alt, who helped confirm the "authenticity" of the negatives, thinks Adams carried the negatives with him to use in a photography class he was teaching in Pasadena, California, in the early 1940s.

"It is my belief that he brought these negatives with him for teaching purposes and to show students how to not let their negatives be engulfed in a fire," Alt told CNN. "I think this clearly explains the range of work in these negatives, from very early pictorialist boat pictures, to images not as successful, to images of the highest level of his work during this time period."

Norsigian plans to sell prints made form the negatives to museums and collectors.

However, the "experts" may not be so expert after all. Apparently they are not actually Ansel Adams' photos, but Uncle Earl's.

Oakland resident Mariam L. Walton saw a picture of the famous Jeffrey Pine on Sentinal Dome at Yosemite during a report about the photos on a local news station and said she immediately recognized the image as one taken by her uncle, Earl Brooks, back in 1923.

Read her story here.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don't It?

Well, yes it does. That's why photojournalists (or in this case, their editors) should not screw with their photos.

Case in point, the cover of a recent The Economist issue (on the left). Apparently an editor felt the need to remove the two people standing with President Obama. As a result, they've changed the photo. Or, more precisely, the visceral experience you get from looking at the photo. And they changed the meaning too.

The original picture (on the right) was taken by Larry Downing for Reuters. The altered cover shot was created by Emma Duncan, Deputy Editor of The Economist. Here's her explanation for the alteration:

"We often edit the photos we use on our covers," she said. And this particular cover was altered because "the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers."
This is a ridiculous explanation. If any element of the photo is "puzzling" to the viewer, it can be taken care of in the caption. That's why captions were invented.

And the fact that President Obama is standing with two unidentified people is not very puzzling. Sure, I'd like to know who the two people he's with are. But for me, it's not essential that I know. I can infer from the photo that he's probably standing with some Gulf State officials, or maybe locals. To get the full effect of the photo, it is not essential to know who the other two people are.

Taking them out completely changes the meaning of the photo. Instead of President Obama leaning down to hear what the woman is saying (as he is in the unretouched photo), he's now hanging his head in shame, or embarrassment at the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Instead of BP being the bad guy in the photo (as they are in the unretouched version), now President Obama is the bad guy.

But, what do you expect. Both The Economist and BP are owned by British companies. So, I guess we know where their loyalties lie.