SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The legal fight over Ansel Adams’ so-called “lost negatives” continues, with a collector who is accused of passing off the glass negatives of an amateur as the work of Adams now suing the University of Arizona. The school says on its website that there is “no reason to believe” the collector’s negatives are genuine.
Collector Rick Norsigian’s battle with the trust began in August 2010 when it sued him for advertising “Ansel Adams Lost Negatives” prints and posters on his website. The trust claims the negatives are the work of a talented amateur, Earl Brooks.
Norsigian’s counterclaim, filed by Beverly Hills lawyer Arnold Peter, also names the University of Arizona as a defendant. The UA’s Center for Creative Photography houses an archive of Ansel Adams negatives.
Norsigian and original co-defendant PRS Media Partners say a team of experts “had unanimously concluded that the negatives were created by Ansel Adams.”
The counterclaim says the expert panel concluded that the negatives correspond to iconic locations shot by Adams and that the glass plate negatives “are of a rare size that was used by Ansel Adams during his career.”
Also, former FBI agent Thomas Knowles and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Manny Medrano “concluded that, based on their own assessment of the forensic evidence, and applying the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard utilized in criminal trials, that the evidence as to whether the negatives were created by Ansel Adams was overwhelming,” according to the complaint.
Norsigian claims that the trust defamed him by calling him and PRS Media “‘crooks’ and ‘con men’ in comments reported internationally by CNN.”
Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trustee William Turnage “further stated that Rick Norsigian and his team were telling a ‘big lie’ and analogized Norsigian’s authentication efforts to the propaganda techniques used in Nazi Germany by Adolf Hitler,” according to the complaint.
The University of Arizona entered the fray after the Adams Trust sued Norsigian. In his counterclaim, Norsigian says “the trust contacted the University of Arizona and demanded that the university take a position supporting them” in the media.
The University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography, which Adams helped to establish in 1975, houses the largest Ansel Adams archive in the nation and includes all of his known negatives. The Ansel Adams archive includes 2,500 Adams prints and his unpublished writings, and provides visitors with digital scans of Adams’ work.
Norsigian claims that as a public university, the University of Arizona is “supposed to remain neutral” and that there was “a lot of dissent over whether they should take a position.”
This dissent, Norsigian said, came from Katherine Martinez, director of the university’s Center for Creative Photography, and from the university’s Dean of Libraries Carla Stoffle.
The exhibits for the counterclaim indicate that Turnage contacted Martinez, and an email from Martinez shows that Turnage “said it was ‘essential’ for CCP staff to talk with the press to say that the ‘lost’ negatives are not Adams negatives … in order to defend the ‘integrity and reputation’ of the Center.”
Martinez’s email continued: “I spoke with Carla, and we agreed that we disagree with Bill. Carla and I agreed that it is up to the family and the Trust to respond to the press … we will continue not to comment.”
According to Norsigian and the exhibits, the university ultimately supported the trust, posting on its website the statement: “We are aware of the claims made by Rick Norsigian regarding the photographic negatives in his possession. We have no reason to believe that these negatives are, in fact, the work of Ansel Adams, and we support the efforts of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust to protect its rights in this matter.”
Norsigian said this amounts to “an illegal civil conspiracy.” He seeks actual and punitive damages for slander, defamation and trade libel.
The trust’s complaint and Norsigian’s counterclaim are set to be heard by a jury in May 2012.