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Team Norsigian Accentuates the Negative (3)

I continue with my analysis of the claims of Team Norsigian, and the qualifications of its members as purported experts capable of deciding whether the disputed negatives were or weren’t made by Ansel Adams.

David W. Streets, self-described “Fine Art and Celebrity Memorabilia Advisor and Appraiser of Beverly Hills,” is not a member of the investigative group whose conclusions appear in Team Norsigian’s “Final Report of Investigative Team.” He has, however, taken on the marketing of the gelatin-silver and digital editions of prints that Norsigian has begun to sell. The report’s cover page bears his gallery’s name and location. That, and his self-professed status as a legitimate art appraiser, signify that he’s adding his own imprimatur to those of Team Norsigian’s charter members.

(Not incidentally, I find no indication at his site of the source of Streets’s credentials as an art and photography and “celebrity memorabilia” appraiser. Is he a Certified Member of the Appraisers Association of America? An Accredited Member of the American Society of Appraisers? Most reputable appraisers I know — Penelope Dixon, for one — list such credentials prominently. Streets mentions not a single one; a search of those two organizations’ websites does not bring up his name.)

Here’s more self-description, from Streets’s website: “[Streets is] Los Angeles’ leading appraiser of all genres of fine art and celebrity memorabilia. He is also often called upon as an expert witness in litigation involving fine art and celebrity memorabilia. For over 25 years, Streets has appraised collections for banks, attorneys, insurance companies, and individuals. Never pushy or engaged in hard sales tactics, he delights his customers with his lavish attention and professional savvy. Street’s collectors include first time buyers, serious collectors, major corporations, American Presidents, politicians, foreign dignitaries and famous celebrities. David is frequently called upon to advise major museums, auction houses, insurance/trust companies, banks, corporate and individual collectors with his opinions and advice. . . . Whether for advice on investing in art, collecting, appraising, or liquidating your collection, David W. Streets is proven to be the most respected and trusted Advisor in Fine Art and Memorabilia for over 20 years. . . . Few fine art galleries in the country offer the quality, selection, value and taste of David W. Streets ~ Beverly Hills ~ Fine Art Gallery.” Right up there with Sonnabend, Castelli, Pace/MacGill. If you say so, David.

Here’s the full description of the “appraisal services” he offers: “Even though an appraisal can be written for different purposes, they all depend on the same research processes. This entails searching through a minimum of six paid worldwide databases and then data files of my own compilation. The process is the same for a fifty thousand dollar painting as it is for a ten dollar painting and requires one hour of time and research. This fee for the hour of research and documented appraisal is $150.00. Please email before committing to this process or payment. Appraisals, unless otherwise arranged, are done from hard copy or digital images provided by the client. Reduced rate for 5 or more items appraised.” A whole hour’s work? Sounds thorough to me.

David W. Streets and Mary Tyler Moore, from Streets's Facebook album.

Streets claims knowledge of photography — “Fine Art, Appraisals, Contemporary Art & Photography” reads his website’s subhead, and elsewhere the site asserts that “We are leading appraisers of all genres of fine art, decorative arts, photography and celebrity memorabilia.” But I find no convincing evidence of this expertise in photography at his website. The only photographers he represents are Jesse Kalisher, not coincidentally the photographer chosen by Team Norsigian to print the disputed negatives, and one Terry O’Neill, both heretofore unknown to me.

Kalisher, not trained by Adams himself to print Adams negatives, doesn’t number among Team Norsigian’s consortium of experts, and apparently has no deep investment in ascribing these negatives to Adams; he’s just enjoying the printing of them. “[W]e’ll never know who took the pictures,” he writes. “And for me, it doesn’t matter. When I was asked to print the negatives, I agreed with the understanding that I wouldn’t be asked to authenticate them. They are magnificent negatives, negatives that should be well looked after and preserved. I’m honored to print them … whoever happened to take the pictures.” Fair and judicious enough. (See “Ansel Adams, Lost Negatives and Hate Mail” at Kalisher’s blog, Story Behind the Picture.)

"DWS and Iconic Celebrity /Movie photographer Douglas Kirkland," from Streets's Facebook album.

Streets himself put the now-famous USD $200 million evaluation on the Norsigian negatives, apparently pulling it out of thin air on the eve of Team Norsigian’s July 27 press conference, and while I suspect that number’s considerably inflated it’s not impossible that they could generate millions, some of that in the short term and some over a very long period of time. This assumes, of course, that Norsigian does have the right to market prints from these negatives and license subsidiary rights to the imagery using the Ansel Adams name — not a fait accompli, by any means. (I’ll have more to say on that in a future post.)

"Sotheby's Lisa Arden and DWS- Passover Seder/Spago 2008," from Streets's Facebook album.

Even if Streets has vastly overestimated the potential return, I consider his projection far more realistic than the laughable notion floated by the Adams herd that the negatives, even if authenticated, are essentially worthless. This doesn’t mean that Streets knows anything about photography, let me add, but he surely understands something about marketing.

And that includes self-promotion. According to the New York Times, “Streets, who set the value for the negatives and is handling the related sales, is a convicted felon with a criminal record for petty theft and fraud in Louisiana and Kentucky. Though he says on his Web site,, that he has 25 years of fine-art appraisal experience, two of Mr. Streets’s former employers say his true talent is in the embellishment of his credentials.” (For Reyhan Harmanci’s Aug. 13 report, “Tale of Ansel Adams Negatives Grows Hazy,” click here.)

"DWS and Sly Stallone May 15, 2008," from Streets's Facebook album.

Streets now owns up to this stretch of his personal and professional history, sort of, but with a lengthy rationale that begins, “While I have never hid (sic) my past and have always operated in the public eye, it hurts me that the New York Times finds it necessary to dredge up an isolated episode in my life that does not reflect who I am and what I have become. For some unknown reason, the New York Times intends to publish an article about a chapter in my life nearly 20 years ago when I was suffering from untreated manic depression. My mother, who suffered from the same disorder, committed suicide when I was 15 and my father died the following year. Without a strong family support system, I experienced a terrible chapter in my life that led to criminal charges which were ultimately dismissed and expunged. I took complete responsibility and learned from that experience.”

The reason for the Times publishing its investigative report is hardly “unknown.” It’s “dredged up” this pertinent information precisely because Streets has publicly issued an internationally publicized authentication and exorbitant evaluation of the Norsigian negatives — a perfectly legitimate journalistic motive for inquiring into his shady past. As for Streets having “never hid[den]” this “chapter”: according to the Times, “For his part, Mr. Streets initially denied in an interview that he was the same David W. Streets who was convicted of passing bad checks, fraud and petty theft over a seven-year period that ended in 1998 when he was in his early 30s,” before copping to it in a subsequent email.

So this little crime spree that Streets calls an “isolated episode” may have started “nearly 20 years ago,” but it lasted seven years or so, ended just 12 years ago, and included numerous incidents. Hardly irrelevant to the situation at hand.

"DWS and Julie Newmar," from Streets's Facebook album.

And Streets is simply lying when he insists that the charges against him were “ultimately dismissed and expunged.” To the contrary, the Times reports that “his criminal convictions, for which he received probation and was, in one case, required to pay $19,000 restitution,” remain on the public record (which is how the Times found out about them, of course). If Streets had told these fibs under oath on the witness stand, he’d be a perjurer, as I’m sure the legal eagles of Team Norsigian — Arnold Peter, Thomas Knowles, and Manny Medrano — will confirm.

Streets’ assertion that he’s “hurt” by the Times report and his claim that he “took complete responsibility [for his felonious behavior] and learned from that experience” exemplify the crassest, most self-serving type of psychobabble, the now-pandemic gobbledygook that results from what Philip Rieff decried as “the triumph of the therapeutic.” Was he delusional enough to believe that he’d get through this unscrutinized?

David W. Streets and Joanna Carson, from Streets's Facebook album.

More interesting than his whining about his unsavory past coming to light, though, is the fact that there are now signs of dissension in the ranks at Team Norsigian: Patrick Alt, the photographer with paltry credentials who serves as the team’s “photography expert,” is quoted by the Times as calling Streets’s $200 million evaluation of the disputed negatives “outrageous.”

All of this matters because, according to Ansel Adams biographer Mary Alinder, Norsigian has been opinion-shopping for years. An August 14 report in the Fresno Bee states that, in 2002, Alinder initially opined that the images didn’t look to her like Adams’s work. “In May 2004 — six years before the $200 million appraisal — Norsigian sent her an e-mail: ‘Before you say no, I will offer you 25% of the total sale of 60 glass negatives if you help me prove this,’ Alinder said, quoting from the e-mail.”

Arnold Peter, Norsigian’s Beverly Hills lawyer, said the offer was not a bribe, but compensation for Alinder’s help, according to the same story, but that’s disingenuous at best. The only way there would be a “total sale” for Alinder to get 25% of would be if the negatives got authenticated. Note that Norsigian isn’t asking her to help him find out the truth, but to “help [him] prove this.” (See Paula Lloyd, “Doubt develops over Fresnan’s photo negatives.”) Thus the question of Streets’s fraudulent past activity, questionable bona fides as an appraiser, and availability to the highest bidder foregrounds itself, his 12-step recovery program assertions notwithstanding.

So . . . David W. Streets, convicted felon, meet Manny Medrano, ex-criminal prosecutor, and Thomas Knowles, former FBI Agent and FBI Section Chief. The photo-authentication biz makes strange bedfellows, eh? How comfortable do they feel with these disclosures about their colleague? Someone should ask them that question.

"Rob Lowe at the Celebrity Vault with Director David W. Streets-Beverly Hills," from Streets's Facebook album.

I’ve written at length about the failure of Knowles, Team Norsigian’s designated forensics expert, to pursue any forensic leads in this case. As for Medrano, here’s what he has to say about all this: “I have sent people to prison, for the rest of their lives, for far less evidence than I have seen in this case. In my view, those photographs were done by Ansel Adams.” Period. Yup, that’s it — the entire section of the vaunted “Final Report of Investigative Team” provided by Manny Medrano, Team Norsigian’s “evidence and burden of proof expert.”

Reluctantly, I must point out that this utterance doesn’t qualify as evidence, proof, or an “investigative report.” Nor does it function as testimony in any legal sense. It’s got the approximate weight of a computer-keyboard macro: “Good enough for Manny Medrano.”

Not good enough for me, however. Substantively worthless, in fact. And nothing he’d be allowed to get away with on the witness stand without a great deal of detailed preliminary establishment of his basis for this presently groundless conclusion. Medrano, whose legal credentials seem extremely solid, surely knows this. Doesn’t reassure me about the State of California’s criminal justice system during his tenure, nor about the evidence and testimony gathered here. I take Medrano’s statement as a belated confession that he won many of his convictions using flimsy circumstantial evidence. As someone else has suggested, call in the Innocence Project to review his track record.

Meanwhile, with all this presumed expertise in forensics and criminalistics paraded around so prominently by Team Norsigian, how did ex-con David Streets’s criminal record get overlooked?

You can’t make this stuff up. There’s a dark comedy emerging here, a sardonic parable of wishful self-reinvention by middle-aged men: wall painter Rick Norsigian as an autodidact photo connoisseur, nudie photographer Patrick Alt as a “photography expert,” museum curator Robert Moeller as another, and art hustler David Streets as yet another. I don’t want a piece of the action from Norsigian’s print sales and licensing revenues; all that may end up going to the Adams Trust, depending on how the rights issue shakes down. I want an option on the Hollywood film of the story; that’s where the big bucks lie hidden. I’m talking starring roles for Jeff Bridges, John Travolta, Jim Belushi . . .

Part 5 of 14: 12 I 3 I 4 I 5 I 67 I 8 I 91011121314

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3 comments to Team Norsigian Accentuates the Negative (3)

  • Emma Sorenson

    At last – and long overdue – a critical analysis on David W Streets and Co at its very best.

    I’ve been puzzled by Mr Streets website – the discrepancy between his claims of expertise and the ghastlies he actually sells – long before the Norsigian thing came up, but had no clue about his criminal past.

    This is a very bad case of The Emporer’s New Cloths and it’s amazing what people can get away with. Mr Streets has had his 15 min of fame and it’s about time he sought treatment.

    And sorry for this analogy – but the hype surrounding this case does remind me of the Hitler’s Diaries fiasco.

  • Bruno Chalifour

    How can Kalisher be “in the collection of the Louvre”? Next to the headless Victoire de Samothrace I suppose? Just round the corner from La Joconda?

    I didn’t know the museum collected photography, especially of that type and caliber.

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