Court Battle Over Lost Ansel Adams Negatives Turns Ugly

A watermark print from one of the he glass negatives Rick Norsigian purchased at a garage sale that he says are by Ansel Adams.

Whether or not a box of glass-plate negatives are the work of Ansel Adams, someone is making a lot of money from the sale of prints developed from them—but it isn’t Rick Norsigian, who purchased the 65 negatives for $45 at a Fresno garage sale 14 years ago. Now the California-based commercial painter is suing his attorney, Arnold Peter, alleging that the lawyer has withheld the profits from sales of the photographs, reports Courthouse News.

Norsigian has always believed that his negatives are by Ansel Adams, and were lost after a fire in the photographer’s studio. In the years since, the court of opinion on the matter has shifted, with former Museum of Fine Arts, Boston curator Robert C. Moeller retracting his initial endorsement of their authenticity, and the University of Arizona—home to the Center for Creative Photography and a huge collection of Adam photos—seconding his opinion.

In 2007, after years of storing the negatives underneath his pool table, Norsigian decided to sell prints of the images, hiring Peter to represent him. Norsigian contends that the lawyer had him sign an agreement to sell the prints through Media Partners Global, owned by Peter, failing to disclose any potential conflict of interest in such an arrangement.

In the years since, Media Partners Global has allegedly sold enough prints to earn $1.8 million in revenue, even after they were forced to stop marketing them under the Ansel Adams name after a 2010 trademark lawsuit from the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Despite the impressive numbers, Norsigian claims to have not received his share of the profits.

He also accuses Peter of failing to share pertinent business operation details regarding income and expenses, and of hiring a convicted felon, David Streets, to help appraise and sell the images. Norsigian wishes to terminate his contract with Media Partners Global, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a full accounting of proceeds and expenses related to the sale of the images.

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