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Team Norsigian Accentuates the Negative (11)

Collector Rick Norsigian. Image courtesy of Rick Norsigian.

Amping up the bogosity and racing headlong toward a “goes to 11” mindset, Team Norsigian has apparently decided to sidetrack itself by investing some of its seemingly boundless energies in discrediting the “Uncle” Earl Brooks Theory of provenance for the Norsigian negatives. (Bogosity: “the state or condition of being bogus.”) Toward that end, they’ve dug up an online source for a small trove of Brooks’s commercial work, 81 images in all, presently housed in the Hagley Digital Archives in Wilmington, Delaware. Team Norsigian has actually issued a breathless, self-congratulatory September 16 press release to celebrate this presumably momentous “discovery.”

“In its continuing investigative efforts into the ‘Uncle Earl’ Theory,” the release states, “Team Norsigian also announced that it will be publishing an upcoming research report on Earl Brooks.” If it’s as richly comical an effort as their earlier classic, “The Lost Negatives of Ansel Adams,” I can hardly wait. I have high hopes, based on this teaser in the press release:

“One of Brooks’ grandchildren, who asked to remain anonymous, . . . informed Team Norsigian that she has discovered a camera that Earl Brooks used — a Kodak box camera (Model # Junior Six-16), which captures images on film, not glass. All of the images in the Norsigian Collection were captured on large glass negatives.”

Kodak Six-16 Brownie Junior

I’d guess that this camera was something like the Kodak Six-16 Brownie Junior, pictured here — introduced February 1934, discontinued October 1942. I hate to throw cold water on Team Norsigian’s excitement over the fact that such a camera could not possibly have produced the Norsigian negatives, but this constitutes yet another of those moments where they reveal their profound dumbness. Some hard facts:

• Professional photographers commonly own more than one camera.

• The Kodak Six-16 Brownie Junior is not a camera that any professional of that era would have used in a portrait studio such as the one Brooks ran for decades in Delaware. These box cameras represent the origin of the concept of the idiot-proof “point and shoot” consumer-end camera.

• The Kodak Six-16 Brownie Junior is certainly not a camera that any professional of that era would have used in an effort to make landscapes he hoped to license to National Geographic for publication — the reported motive for Brooks’s photographic car trips to Yosemite and other parts of California.

Earl Brooks. Detail of photo by Graham Hughes.

• The Kodak Six-16 Brownie Junior is the kind of camera that, as a professional photographer accustomed to working with large-format cameras and glass-plate negatives, one might bring along to make casual vacation snapshots for the family album, souvenirs of the adventure, in addition to one’s serious, considered exposures using professional-level equipment.

• The Kodak Six-16 Brownie Junior is also the kind of camera you’d readily put in the hands of an amateur, or a child, who accompanied you on a long road trip during which you’d stop periodically as a professional photographer to make your own exposures — and Brooks’s wife and children/stepchildren reportedly traveled with him on those expeditions to the west.

• In short, even if the grandchild’s attribution to Brooks himself of ownership of this camera is correct, it proves nothing whatsoever that supports any claim made by Team Norsigian. Specifically, it in no way undercuts the possibility that Brooks generated the negatives Team Norsigian claims as Ansel Adams’s, despite this press release’s suggestion to the contrary.

• All of which suggests that attorney Arnold Peter has, at best, a shaky grasp of the concept of evidence, and a limited ability to construct a coherent line of reasoning.

Arnold Peter, Esq.

By the way, the Brooks images in the Hadley archive constitute a mix of studio portraits, theater stills, and factory interiors: competently made and utterly conventional, typical — like his landscapes — of an unexceptional journeyman photographer of the period.

Instead of expending time trying to disprove the “Uncle” Earl Theory, Team Norsigian should devote itself to proving its own claims about Adams’s authorship. Eliminating Brooks from the field does not constitute anything remotely resembling authentication of these negatives as missing works by Adams. Yet another red herring waved around by Arnold Peter, Norsigian’s attorney, whose mismanagement of this entire project becomes more evident every day. Instead of distracting themselves with disproving the “Uncle” Earl Theory, Team Norsigian needs to hire a recognized photo researcher whose verdict the field will respect, and get itself to the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, where the Adams archive resides. Anything else is smoke-blowing.

It’s been a slow week on this story. Minor events:

Still from "The Lost Negatives."

• Team Norsigian has released the trailer for its self-touted “documentary,” titled “The Lost Negatives” and indicated as forthcoming in January 2011. Not to be missed, if only for the opening shot of Rick Norsigian, followed by attorney Arnold Peter, both protected by a security guard, sternly carrying the precious glass plates somewhere for white-glove handling and scrutiny. Production of the film presumably gets credited to PRS Media Partners, an offshoot of Peter, Rubin & Simon, LLP, the law firm representing Norsigian.

The trailer does have one moment of real interest: a fleeting glimpse of a photograph of Yosemite, its negative much damaged along its top edge, depicting a view across a lake towards what I think may be Half Dome in the distance. Notably, the negative includes a dozen people standing and sitting along a road on the shore at the lower left side of the image. In order to emphasize what he saw as the eternal aspects of this park, Adams almost invariably avoided all signs of human presence in his Yosemite photographs. I’ve never seen an Adams image of Yosemite that included tourists; if authenticated, this would be a first (for me, at least).

Still from "The Lost Negatives."

(P.S. Several regular readers have chastised me for failing to mention the trailer’s dramatic soundtrack; so, belatedly, I commend that also to your attention. — A. D. C., 9/27/10)

• A three-day show of what’s now referred to by Team Norsigian as “The Norsigian Collection” of photographic images took place at the David W. Streets Gallery in Beverly Hills this past weekend, September 23-25. Streets’s website now carefully avoids any reference to Ansel Adams — no doubt weighing its liability should the San Francisco Federal District Court rule in favor of the Ansel Adams Trust. Yet Streets continues to take orders for prints from these negatives, promoted still at the Norsigian website, in its announcement of the Streets showing, as an exhibition and sale of “images authenticated as the work of Ansel Adams.”

• A week earlier, the Duncan Miller Gallery on Venice Boulevard in Hollywood mounted an exhibition including some 20 authenticated Ansel Adams prints developed and signed by Adams himself, on loan from an unspecified source; three prints from the Norsigian negatives, lent by former Adams assistant Alan Ross, to whom Norsigian had sent them; and three “digital enlargements” of images by “Uncle” Earl Brooks that match or correspond closely to the Norsigian images, made from scans of the prints presumably by Brooks in the possession of his niece, Miriam Walton, and lent to this show by San Francisco gallerist Scott Nichols. This showing ran September 11-19, culminating with a September 19 program including an afternoon lecture on Adams and his work by Carol McCusker, former curator at San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts, followed by a panel discussion including McCusker, Nichols and photographer and author John Upton. (Click here for Mike Boehm’s report in the September 10 Los Angeles Times.)

Meanwhile, the world awaits with less than bated breath the ruling of the San Francisco Federal District Court on the trademark-infringement suit filed on August 23 by the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. I have to ask why the Adams Trust didn’t file this suit immediately upon Team Norsigian’s announcement of print and poster sales at the July 27 press conference, and the simultaneous opening of two websites (Norsigian’s and Streets’s) devoted in part to that marketing enterprise.

The public debut of this marketing project constituted de facto trademark infringement; why not shut it down instantly? The Adams Trust had grounds for its suit the moment Team Norsigian issued its “Final Report” and started advertising prints and posters for sale under the name Ansel Adams, on July 27. Impossible to believe they got blindsided by this. Presumably they saw it coming; according to William “Wild Bill” Turnage, Michael Adams, and Norsigian himself, Norsigian’s been in touch with them persistently for close to a decade. He and his representatives have kept asking the Adams Herd to join them in this venture. They had ample advance notice, and plenty of time to nip this in the bud.

Instead of the stream of injudicious invective, and misleading comments about the differences between a print made by Adams and one made by someone else, why not just file this trademark-infringement suit pronto and put the whole thing to rest? I don’t see the logic in that strategy — unless, of course, you’re actually after the massive free publicity generated by this situation, which at no significant cost has brought considerable international attention to the authenticated Ansel Adams product line marketed by the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite in conjunction with the Ansel Adams Trust. Hmmmm . . . . .

Probably worth keeping in mind that Peter, Rubin & Simon, LLP — the legal partnership of Arnold Peter, Barbara M. Rubin and Jody Simon, which represents Rick Norsigian, backs the production of the documentary film about his purported Ansel Adams “find,” and is otherwise up to its neck in this whole enterprise — emphasizes its credentials in the “entertainment industry.” The same crew have formed PRS Media Partners, as noted above, to facilitate production of the in-progress documentary film. Perhaps we should look at this as an entertainment-industry project incorporating a massive publicity stunt, and a collaboration thereon among all the players on both sides . . .

A footnote to all this: Photographer Jesse Kalisher has ended his relationship with the Team Norsigian project. Kalisher, a bit player in this melodrama, produced the initial round of exhibition-quality 16″ x 20″ prints from Norsigian’s purported Ansel Adams negatives, the same prints that went on display this past week at the David W. Streets Gallery in Beverly Hills.

According to Kalisher (and I see no reason to doubt him), the decision has a purely logistical basis. He’s based in Carrboro, North Carolina, which means the fragile glass-plate negatives have to get shipped to him, putting them at risk. He expressed those concerns, and Norsigian has therefore decided to work with someone closer to home — assuming, of course, that the current trademark-infringement lawsuit resolves in his favor, allowing him to continue production and marketing of works whose provenance he and his cohorts continue to attribute to Adams.

Kalisher himself has never proposed that Adams made these negatives; his role here is simply that of a custom printer. So he’s not implicated in any of Team Norsigian’s shenanigans. To his credit, he makes a point of putting in a good word on behalf of Streets, his former gallerist. For Kalisher’s blog post about this, click here.
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12 comments to Team Norsigian Accentuates the Negative (11)

  • Richard Kuzniak

    Sure would love to see the spectroscopy report that confirms that some of these glass negs were subjected to a darkroom fire! Thanks for this very entertaining series of articles! Any idea on when the suit will be pressed?

    • I’d welcome anything resembling real forensic evidence to support Team Norsigian’s claims. Without that, their argument gets more pointless and less plausible by the minute.

      No idea when the SF Federal District Court will hand down its ruling. The wheels of justice grind slow . . .

  • Jeff Schneider

    “Take stock of those around you and you will hear them talk in precise terms about themselves and their surroundings, which would seem to point to them having ideas on the matter. But start to analyze those ideas and you will find that they hardly reflect in any way the reality to which they appear to refer, and if you go deeper you will discover that there is not even an attempt to adjust the ideas to this reality. Quite the contrary: through these notions the individual is trying to cut off any personal vision of reality in his own very life. For life is at the start a chaos in which one is lost. The individual respects this, but he is frightened at finding himself face to face with this terrible reality and tries to cover it over with a curtain of fantasy, where everything is clear. It does not worry him that his ideas are not true, he uses them as trenches for the defense of his existence, as scarecrows to frighten away reality.”

    -Jose Ortega y Gasset

    Mr. Coleman,

    Ortega y Gasset must have had you in mind and all of the other millions and millions of chooches out there in the ether with a decent cable connection and advanced infantilism when penning these words. Your comments, regarding my friend Patrick Alt’s pedigree has caused considerable consternation not only to me, but also to the other “irrelevant twits” who appear in this scenario.

    Your jeremiad reeks with the petulance of a spoiled, pubescent young girl.

    Are you an expert in irrelevant twits? Have you studied tribes of irrelevant twits like Margaret Mead did with the Samoans? Mr. Coleman, you are the bane of the Internet and typical of most microbloggers: Virgins in their tighty whities who like to throw stones from the safety of their firewalls.

    Since Patrick has no remunerative stake regarding the provenance of the Norsigian glass plates, I am incredulous as to why you’d besmirch his good name for your own aggrandizement.

    H was brought in by Rick Norsigian as a technical consultant having dedicated the last 30 years to the practice and historical study of large format photography and is eminently conversant in the methodology of both Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. He can tell you with great certainty what cameras, lenses and working methods each of them used without the benefit of a sheepskin that seems to be the only litmus for true immutable credibility.

    Patrick’s MFA seems to disqualify him from finding traction in the halls of academia in which you and the rest of the petrified antediluvians seem to covet.

    Puhhhhllleeeeesssse. You poseurs, who have never taken a picture or contemplated a landscape on the ground glass of any camera will never know the joy of actually doing it, yet can easily pass judgment like a closeted homosexual evangelist.

    You claim his sales will not be affected by the doubtless “butt of jokes” he’s become among his colleagues, but what about your comments describing his landscapes as “conventional” and his nudes as “cheesecake”? Will they affect sales?

    Mr. Coleman, you might not like his landscapes or nudes but if you are true to your own pedigree why would you blithely pass them off as conventional or cheesecake and not give them the same critical gravitas you would to any other artist?

    This is great problem with the Internet. Any comments by so-called experts, bathed in the elixir of “credibility” can find roots, even with meshugenah cunts like Christine O’Donnell and Sarah Palin.

  • Per the old adage, some people have friends who make enemies unnecessary.

  • Besmirch? Tightie whities? Homosexual innuendos running rampant and we know that such innuendos run like girls.

    Honestly, I thought this whole scam was a scam from the get go for subjective, West Side of Chicago, what I learned on my Uncle Louie’s knee and have at best skimmed most of the postings on this subject.

    The whole business of the the real world v. the academic world is akin to “I ran the Engulf and Devour Widget Factory, so I’m better than your Senator who is a, gasp, a Professional Politician.”

    And I think walking around some of the neighborhoods I shot my political pics in with a couple of Leicas et. cet. is a tad more adventuresome than schlepping a view camera.

    Maybe time for a new subject until the court has spoken. In the meantime, anyone who hasn’t already done so might want to read W. H. Jackson’s autobio (Time Exposures?). Learn a thing or two about real thrills with view cameras and mules. And he noted that if he were active when he wrote (around 1939-40), he’d be using a SLR and Kodachrome.

  • Allan, I know you are and have been a strong defender of free speech and an equally strong opponent of censorship. So perhaps a little restraint might be in order from your readers, both supporters and detractors. That noted, I would point out to Jeff Schneider (who despite his name, is more of blunderbuss than a cutter) that “cunt” is a word one might in real anger use in the real time in the real world, but in print is as vulgar and as objectionable and ugly as the more famous “N” word.

  • I’m just a commenting fool today, but this one is after my second cup of coffee and the a.m dog walk.

    I read Mr. Alt’s post and it is a bunch of self-serving twaddle. His photos remind me of Duane Michal’s comment ― more or less, but I think I’ve got the substance ― that an 8×10 by Robert Frank is worth more than the whole Dusseldorf School. If he wants to learn a thing or two about using a panoramic camera vertically, he might care to study Lois Connor’s mastery of that difficult camera usage.

    As to Mr. Jeff Schneider, I did a google and there is a Jeff S who is listed as a “self-taught” photographer and again, my Uncle Louie meter tells me this is the same guy and his pics are mediocre soft-core art/porn. The (helpless) male gaze.

    As a fellow “self-taught” photographer, when I lecture or teach and the subject comes up, I make a point of saying that no one is self-taught. In my case I learned from my first employer in a portrait studio mingled with looking at pictures and learning from older photographers as well as the generosity of Hugh Edwards.

    If I am picking out the wrong Jeff S, I apologize for the mistaken identity, but not for lambasting him for his agressively stupid comments above.

  • Brooke Delarco

    Mr. Coleman,

    I would like to introduce myself to you…I am said grandchild of Earl Brooks who was greatly misquoted by “Team Norsigian” in their offensive “research report” on him.

    When I first found out about all these goings on, a few weeks ago, I erroneously, had a some initial conversations with their press agent. I told him that I had found a camera, which I thought, might be one of Earl’s. I also told him that I had also found, several black and white ‘landscape’ photos of the California coast and one of Lake Tahoe. The first and most significant one is a 3×5 shot of the exact same point in Carmel as one of the glass negatives. While it is not an exact duplicate, it is seemingly from the same tripod location and a compellingly similar shot.

    I speculated that this might have been shot using the camera I found, prior to taking the larger shot on the camera that created the one they have. The camera I have, is a Kodak Junior Six.16 w/a KA f6.3 lens, not a Brownie as you have depicted. The 3 photos that I have appear to be the same size as the film used in the camera.

    I currently reside in Arden, Delaware where my grandfather is well remembered and revered. The pictures that are archived in the Delaware archives are a mere fraction of the body of work that he produced in his lifetime. The Arden museum has a great many on display and many of our friends and relatives in the area have numerous pictures that Earl took of them. While most of these are portraits, since that is what he made a living at, it does not discount the possibility that he had others that have not, here to for, been found.

    It has been widely stated, by those relatives that have been interviewed, that Earl took many cross country trips and photographed landscapes that he submitted to National Geographic. Are they still possibly somewhere in the files there or warehoused gathering dust? Was it customary to return submissions that were rejected? As of yet we have not located them, but as more and more family members become aware of this controversy, we are all digging through our boxes to locate any relevant documentation.

    Which brings me to my next “teaser” and, in this case, I am “tipping” you off…. We have recently discovered a number of photo albums and writings that Earl left with his only son, Bill Brooks, who passed away last year. They are filled with numerous shots of the same subject matter as those in the glass negatives. It is all dated, from his early childhood in Visalia, summers and hiking trips to Yosemite and various other national wildernesses, up until he left California in 1925.

    At the risk of exposing this information here, I must reserve further details until we have compiled a presentation of the documents and, under the advice of counsel, determined the best approach to bringing these new facts out. I can however, assure you, that these new developments will be revealed in the very near future. Soon the art world will be given a new glimpse into the life and works of “Uncle Earl” whom we all knew as Pappy!

    Thank you for your interest in all of this and taking the time to address many of the issues that are coming out of it.

  • Richard Kuzniak

    I see a book coming . . .

  • Richard Kuzniak

    This story is oh so human on so many levels, at times exalting serendipitous vulgar crazy crass weird and wonderful! I now see a movie …

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