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Ansel Adams Trust Sues Owner of Negatives

By Jason Beahm | Last updated on

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is well known for his black and white photography, largely of landscapes of the American West including Yosemite National Park. He was also an environmentalist and co-developer of a Zone System, a method for determining the best exposure. Adams established The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust in 1976 to preserve and protect his artistic legacy and work.

The trust has now filed suit in federal district court in San Francisco to prevent Rick Norsigian and PRS Media Partners from using Adams' name, likeness and trademark. Norsigian says he bought several Ansel Adams negatives at a garage sale in Fresno ten years ago for $45. Norsigian claims to have noticed that the negatives resembled Adams' Yosemite National Park photos. Norsigian has now created a website selling the prints from the alleged Ansel Adams negatives. He hired attorney Arnold Peter to assemble a team of experts to authenticate the negatives.

Peter announced last month that the team of experts he assembled analyzed the negatives for six months and concluded that the photos were created by Adams' "beyond a reasonable doubt." Apparently the work was thought to have been destroyed in a fire at his Yosemite studio in 1937.

The members of Ansel Adams Trust, however, are calling this all a massive scam. "I'm sure Ansel never would've imagined a scam on this scale," said Bill Turnage, the trust's managing director, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. "I never thought it would come to this, but we have to try to do our duty to protect his work and reputation." The suit alleges that the negatives were created by Earl Brooks. Brooks' niece claims to have a photo of her uncle's that matches one of the negatives.

In sum, Adams trust alleges that Norsigian is wrongfully trading on Adams trademark. Norsigian's attorney contends the lawsuit has no merit and is designed to harass his client.

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