Allen's Blog

For Sale: Ansel Adams’ Negatives (Cheap!)

Ansel Adams at his MoMA gallery opening in New York, 1974

The only time I met Ansel Adams was in 1974, at the opening of his retrospective show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I was there to photograph him for the late (and lamented) Saturday Review, a magazine for which I shot many covers and inside stories. I don’t think we spent more than 10 minutes together while I made this picture, and I wish I could remember more about that moment other than his graciousness while I needed “just one more.”

Of course, I was as surprised as anyone when I first saw and heard the story of the collection of Ansel Adams glass plate negatives bought 10 years ago at a garage sale in California for $45. If you’ve seen the story, you know that some experts have put the value of these photographs at as much as $200 million (factoring in all the print and publishing sales that could take place over a period of many decades).

It may not be that simple. Already, Adams’ grandson has said he’s skeptical about the authenticity of the images, and the director of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust has called the attribution to Adams an “unfortunate fraud.” But according to CNN, a number of experts in various fields have concluded that the 65 plates are indeed the work of Adams, dating from 1919 to the early 1930s. The images are mostly scenes of Yosemite, California, where Adams did much of his best-known work.

Shifting gears, so to speak — back in 1965 I was just out of the army and found a truly wonderful brownstone apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, on a street so quiet and safe that I could leave my Alfa Romeo convertible (top down) out front with no worries at all. My neighbor, Martin Gordon, had recently opened an art gallery in New York, and he was selling a number of vintage prints by Adams. In those days, the going price was $350, so buying one was well out of my league (by comparison, my rent in that great apartment was $200 a month.) But I had previously bought, from the Leo Castelli Gallery, a signed and numbered print by someone named Roy Lichtenstein for $5 — but that’s another story…