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Team Norsigian Accentuates the Negative (19)

Going full-steam-ahead into Year Two of the brouhaha over “the lost negatives of Ansel Adams,” Team Norsigian has added the University of Arizona as a defendant in its countersuit against the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust, on which I reported in an earlier post. (See Maria Dinzeo’s story, “Counterclaim Accuses Ansel Adams Trust of Defamation & Conspiracy in Negatives Battle,” Courthouse News Service, January 19, 2011, for details.)

That suit, filed on December 16, 2010, originally named only the Adams Trust as defendant. It’s related to the trademark-infringement lawsuit filed by the Adams Trust against Rick Norsigian and Arnold Peter’s firm, PRS Media Partners. On December 7, 2010, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White rejected Norsigian’s request for dismissal of the Adams Trust suit, opining that the First Amendment does not bar the trust’s “right of publicity” claim. (See Dinzeo’s earlier report, “S.F. Ansel Adams Prints Trial Moves Forward.”)

Katharine Martinez, Director, Center for Creative Photography

Katharine Martinez, incoming CCP Director.

This inclusion of the UofA in the countersuit comes as no surprise. In fall 2010 Peter, legal counsel for Rick Norsigian, forced the disclosure of a chain of email correspondence between William “Wild Bill” Turnage, Managing Trustee of the Adams Trust, and various functionaries at the Center for Creative Photography and the UofA (which houses the CCP). That correspondence makes it absolutely clear that Turnage blackmailed the CCP’s newly installed director, Katharine Martinez, into reluctantly signing an inappropriate and prejudicial public statement discrediting Norsigian’s claims regarding the glass-plate negatives he bought at a yard sale in Fresno and has attributed to Ansel Adams.

William Turnage says "Off with her head!"

The emails reveal, with no trace of ambiguity, that Turnage threatened to withdraw the Adams Trust’s support of the CCP if Martinez failed to do his bidding. They also show that internal discussion at the University of Arizona-Tucson of his belligerent ultimatum, and the decision to kowtow to him, went well beyond and above Martinez ― to Carla J. Stoffle, Dean of Libraries and the Center for Creative Photography at the UofA (to whom Martinez reports); to John P. Schaefer of the CCP’s Board of Fellows, which oversees the Center’s activities; and to others highly placed in the UofA administration.

What’s particularly appalling about the behavior of the University of Arizona in this situation is that they welcomed Martinez to her new post with open arms. Its April 30, 2010 press release on her appointment, “Center for Creative Photography Announces New Director,” reads, in part, as follows:

“CCP Board of Fellows co-chairs David Knaus and John P. Schaefer shared their enthusiasm for the new appointment. ‘We expect that when members of the photographic community get to know Katharine Martinez they will be impressed by her wide ranging experiences and her capable leadership skills,’ said David Knaus. Schaefer, the Center’s co-founder, said, ‘I couldn’t be more delighted. Katharine Martinez clearly understands what a complex institution like the Center requires. She will be able to deliver a clear picture of the Center’s preeminent position as a photographic archive, research center, and museum, and provide greater access to our unique assets.’”

I think we have to assume that the Adams Trust ― on whose Board Schaefer also sits ― approved of Martinez’s appointment, behind the scenes. Yet, treacherously, a mere four months later, overriding her sensible demurrer, they all collectively put a gun to her head and forced her to endorse a statement she opposed. This effectively voided the CCP’s neutrality in this debate and, more importantly, compromised the CCP generally; one can no longer have a good-faith assumption that the Center’s staff, and those who govern the CCP from within the UofA administration, have either the will or the ability to resist undue influence from donors, sponsors, and other outside forces.

As I proposed in my subsequent polemic, that breach of academic integrity not only demonstrated Turnage’s disdain for the obligations of scholarly impartiality that should govern a research-based institution such as the CCP, it brought shame on the heads of those he bulldozed into compliance with his scheme for backstage manipulation of the CCP as a potential resource for resolving some of the unanswered questions about these negatives. Sadly, I don’t see a way for Martinez to redeem herself here; even if dragged into it kicking and screaming, she undermined her own authority ― fatally, in my opinion.

Carla Stoffle portrait

Dean Carla J. Stoffle

On November 25, 2010, in a post at this blog titled “On the Subject of William Turnage: An Open Letter to the Trustees of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust,” I called for Turnage’s resignation as Managing Trustee of the Adams Trust, based on his documented malfeasance in that role. The addition to the Norsigian lawsuit of the UofA means that other heads may roll as well, possibly including Stoffle’s and Schaefer’s, maybe even Martinez’s; I can hear them greasing the wheels of the tumbril as we speak.

University of Arizona President Emeritus John P. Schaefer

University of Arizona President Emeritus John P. Schaefer

Team Norsigian’s suit asserts that this collusion between the Adams Trust, the CCP, and the UofA amounts to “an illegal civil conspiracy.” (Note: John P. Schaefer, co-founder with Ansel Adams of the CCP when Schaefer ran the university, sits on both the CCP Board of Fellows and the Board of the Adams Trust, a seeming conflict of interest.) They seek actual and punitive damages for slander, defamation, and trade libel. The Adams Trust’s original complaint, and Norsigian’s counterclaim, are both set to be heard by a jury in “May 2012,” according to Dinzeo’s article. I suspect she’s erred by a year, and means May 2011. And it’s not quite clear from this whether the same judge and jury will hear both cases, and, if so, whether they’ll do that simultaneously or separately and consecutively. Clarifications to come, I hope.

Norsigian website logoMeanwhile, Team Norsigian has posted a considerably revamped version of its website devoted to what it now refers to, more cautiously, as “The Lost Negatives” ― leaving Adams’s name out of the title. Nevertheless, claims that these negatives have been authenticated as the work of Ansel Adams appear all over the handsomely designed new site. And Team Norsigian continues to offer for sale prints made from those presumably authenticated negatives. Indeed, they’ve expanded their product line, which now includes the following:

  • Collector’s Edition of 15 hand-numbered, Gelatin Silver Print: $7,500 (unframed, 20 x 24 / framed, 25 x 29.5).
  • Limited Edition of 100 hand-numbered, Gelatin Silver Print: $2,500 (unframed, 20 x 24 / framed, 25 x 29.5).
  • Collector’s Edition of 100 hand-numbered, High Resolution Digital Print: $1,500 (unframed, 20 x 24 / framed, 25 x 29.5).
  • Open Edition High Resolution Digital Print: $550 (unframed 20 x 24 / 25 x 29.5).
  • High Resolution Lost Negatives Collector’s Poster: $35 + shipping. (All prints come framed, with free shipping.)
"Bridal Veil Falls." Image courtesy of Rick Norsigian.

“Bridal Veil Falls.” Image courtesy of Rick Norsigian.

The site carries the following unique disclaimer: “This darkroom/digital print (or poster when applicable), is sold as is. The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust (‘Adams Trust’) has not endorsed, condoned, sponsored, participated or otherwise approved of the sale of this print (poster when applicable). Further, the Adams Trust has not authenticated this print to be an original, or derivative work of Ansel Adams or anyone affiliated with the late artist or his trust.”

Caveat emptor, in short. Keep in mind that you can buy what the Adams Trust calls “Yosemite Special Edition Photographs” ― limited-edition 8×10 gelatin-silver prints from Adams’s negatives, made by Alan Ross, a printmaker who trained under Adams, authenticated by the Adams Trust ― direct from the Ansel Adams Gallery, for $225 USD. I have to wonder who’s going to pop for 33 times that much for a print made by someone with no connection to Adams, from a negative no reputable authority in the field acknowledges as part of Adams’s output.

Arnold Peter, Esq.

Arnold Peter, Esq.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose, would be Team Norsigian’s rationale for continuing to hawk these goods. Ceasing and desisting from the marketing of this product line while the Adams Trust’s trademark-violation suit proceeds could get read as uncertainty of their legal right to do as they’ve done. As I’ve said previously, I consider this a prima facie case of trademark violation. However, since the Adams Trust inexplicably requested a jury trial, the outcome’s not certain; a sympathetic jury may well disregard the facts and opt to side with what the jurors might perceive as Norsigian’s David to the Adams Trust’s Goliath. Then we’ll get to see Norsigian attorney Arnold Peter in action in the courtroom; he may prove more persuasive in person there than he’s seemed to many (myself included) in his arguments on paper.

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

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

The website also states, “For telephonic purchase consultations please contact: David W. Streets Gallery Beverly Hills 310.275.3464.” Streets, I remind you, is a convicted felon and notorious fraudster whose name and gallery appear as publisher on the first page of “The Lost Negatives of Ansel Adams,” Team Norsigian’s controversial and much-discredited report supposedly authenticating these works as created by Adams. In addition to my own extensive disclosure of the report’s flaws, Team Norsigian’s own “art expert,” Robert C. Moeller III, whose credentials for the task seem thin at best, recanted his original authentication of these as works by Adams. (See Peter Sanders, “Expert Says Negatives Not by Ansel Adams,” Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2010 and Mike Boehm’s Los Angeles Times account with the same dateline, “Key expert jumps ship, says garage sale pictures aren’t by Ansel Adams after all.”) Reached by phone, Matthew Adams, the artist’s grandson, who runs the Ansel Adams Gallery, said, “We’re glad [Mr. Moeller] had the courage to admit that he’s wrong.”

Given Streets’ criminal record and dubious professional credentials, were I Team Norsigian I’d run from him as fast as my little legs could carry me. I admire their sense of loyalty, but have to question their wisdom in maintaining this connection to a known scam artist. Won’t stand them in good stead in the upcoming legal battle.

Investopedia logoComic Relief Dep’t.: Here’s a truly dumb story ― “6 Overnight Millionaires,” by Megan Mollmann, datelined December 3, 2010, published at SFGate, online home of the San Francisco Chronicle, and indicated as “provided by Investopedia.” (It also appears at Investopedia’s own website, Financial Edge, under the same title, “6 Overnight Millionaires.”) Mollmann’s list includes Rick Norsigian, as follows:

“Many people dream of becoming independently wealthy over the course of a lifetime. . . . [T]here are those lucky few who make it look easy by turning pocket change into millions of dollars in no time at all. Here are the whirlwind stories of six regular people who have realized the worth of their business, idea or property virtually overnight. . . .

“4. Rick Norsigian, Collector: About 10 years ago, Rick Norsigian, a local painter in Fresno, Calif., found some photographic prints at a garage sale for roughly $50. Last summer, the flea market find became the bargain of a lifetime. Historians confirmed that the collection of glass negatives belonged to the legendary nature photographer Ansel Adams, and are worth around $200 million.”

Megan Mollmann portrait

Megan Mollmann

In fact, not one single “historian” ― much less a number thereof ― has “confirmed” anything whatsoever about these negatives. That’s simply misinformation. Nor has anyone except the con man David Streets suggested that they “are worth around $200 million.” More outright misinformation. Mollmann published this unresearched nonsense while ignoring six months’ prior coverage by numerous journalists of multiple investigations raising a variety of questions about the authorship of these negatives. She also omitted the fact that a trademark-violation lawsuit now in federal court may make it impossible for Norsigian to profit in any way from the negatives ― even if authenticated ― save perhaps by selling them outright.

Slovenly, incompetent work like this gives reporting a bad name, and raises questions about the qualifications of people who call themselves journalists. It also undercuts the credibility of Investopedia and ― because they took it at face value and republished it without fact-checking ― leaves the San Francisco Chronicle with egg on its face. Mollmann had better hope her editors don’t find out.

This post supported by a donation from Frank Gimpaya.

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