He held the boxes in his hands and knew that what they contained had the power to rewrite the history books. At the crossroads, he felt himself faltering.
If his suspicions were wrong, he’d face legal consequences and humiliation — it was a bold claim and he knew it. Did he even dare to try to prove the jeering critics wrong? And what would happen if he was right?
64-year-old Rick Norsigian didn’t believe in fate — everything he had he had worked hard for. And as a skilled carpenter and painter, there was nothing that gave him more satisfaction than refurbishing old antiques and making them shine again.
He’d spend his spare time driving from one yard sale to the next — always in search of the next big project. But, in 2000, something caught his eye at a yard sale in Fresno. And, although Rick didn’t believe in fate, his life was about to change.
As he slowly drove by, a rickety old barber’s chair immediately got his attention. With his curiosity ignited, he pulled over to take a closer look.
On closer inspection, the chair was unsalvagable. Disappointed, he idly began to browse through the other items on offer. Then, he saw the cardboard boxes and a wave of excitement washed over him.
Lifting the dusty lids, Rick saw that the boxes contained a collection of film negatives. One of the negatives looked vaguely familiar, but Rick couldn’t immediately put his finger on where he’d seen it before.
And he didn’t have time to dwell on it—he just knew that he had to have them. They were being sold as a set for $75 — which was, in his opinion, far too much to ask. Of course, he had no idea what he was really dealing with… yet.
Rick put his best poker-face on and tried to haggle with the seller, who told him that he’d bought them in the 1940s at a Los Angeles warehouse.
Rick, undeterred, began to point out the problems with the boxes, complaining that they had obvious wear and smoke damage. Eventually, the seller begrudgingly knocked the price down to $45, oblivious of the mistake he was making.
Just as Rick was about to pay for the negatives, an elderly man burst past and demanded that the seller kept them aside. “Sorry,” Rick said in a friendly tone, “I’ve just bought these so they’re not for sale anymore.”
The man’s face turned red with anger, his fists clenched. He angrily muttered something under his breath before walking away. Suddenly a terrible feeling hit the pit of Ricks’s stomach. Why did the man want these negatives so badly?
When he arrived back at home, Rick inspected his purchase. There were 65 negatives in the box. Coincidentally, his 65th birthday was also coming up. Happy with his buy, Rick stowed the boxes away underneath his pool table.
Every time he had visitors, he pulled out the negatives to show his friends and family. This continued for years. And Rick’s suspicions only grew.
The negatives depicted the world-famous Yosemite mountains — he was sure of it. Having worked there when he was younger, he was very familiar with the distinctive profile of the mountainside. But two years after his purchase, Rick began to feel uneasy about his find.
In a moment of panic, he decided to move the negatives to a secure bank vault. If his gut-feeling was correct, he could be sitting on a goldmine. And he knew people would soon come after him.
Rick’s suspicions could be wrong, and that would make him a fool… and there would be legal consequences to pay. But if he was right, he had made a momentous discovery… and he’d make millions!
It was time to find out for sure. He arranged a meeting with a professional to inspect the negatives. The experts said that the pictures were from the 1930s. Rick wasn’t surprised—the images were obviously dated. But could they really be the infamous “lost photographs”?
Rick was well-versed in antiques and art history. And he had recognized the distinctive style of the negatives he’d found. When one expert dated them back to the 1930s, his heart began to race.
But how was that possible? He knew that there had been a tragedy in 1937 and that one of his favorite artists’ works had been wiped off the face of the earth. But if these negatives were from that period… did he even dare to believe it? But he wasn’t prepared for the struggle that followed.
Most experts believed that years of Ansel Adams’ work had been lost during the early 1930s. These photographs held great historical and artistic significance as they documented the photographer’s transition from amateur to master.
But how had a decade of work just disappeared from the records? And how would Rick deal with the consequences of claiming to have found them?
The beloved father of American photography was known for his black-and-white landscapes of the American West.
His work was so revered that it lead to monumental environmental efforts to conserve America’s national parks. He also established photography as an official discipline in higher education. Unfortunately, he was met with tragedy early on in his career.
In 1937, a fire at Ansel’s studio blazed out of control, destroying thousands of his negatives and stills. And now, Rick was claiming that he had found these precious works at a yard sale in Fresno.
This meant that he possessed the “missing link” in Ansel Adams’ career that historians had been searching for. It was a bold claim, but could he endure the backlash?
The harsh backlash from art directors, historians, and the Adams estate itself came in thick and fast. They all refused to believe that the negatives were genuine.
Soon, the public had caught wind of his claims and everyone mocked and jeered, labeling him a fraud and scam artist. Rick was disheartened, to say the least. But he was determined to prove everyone wrong. He knew he needed help.
After a lot of deliberation, Rick hired a lawyer named Arnold Peter. Arnold claimed that “no reasonable person would have any doubt that these, in fact, were the long-lost images of Ansel Adams.”
Arnold was eager to represent Rick, but he needed to prove that the negatives were authentic. He engaged with experts in art, forensics, handwriting, and weather to find out the truth. he told journalists that the negatives were “on trial.”
Art dealer David Streets said: “It truly is a missing link of Ansel Adams and history and his career. This is going to show the world the evolution of his eye, of his talent, of his skill, his gift, but also his legacy.”
However, the media remained skeptical. And then, criticisms began to get personal.
The managing director of the Ansel Adams Trust publicly dismissed Rick’s findings as a hoax, denouncing the so-called “experts” as “crooks” and “con men.”
Despite attracting the disgust of the trustees and the media, Rick held his head high. He was in too deep to turn back now. He vowed that he’d prove them all wrong. But to end the legal battles, Rick had to sign an agreement.
Arnold claimed that he could make up to $200 million from the negatives, so Rick happily signed the contract. Arnold arranged for a company called Media Partners Global to sell the prints on his behalf, which would waive him from any legal responsibility. It seemed too good to be true.
After selling off the negatives, Media Partners Global was sued, but not before taking their share of the enormous profit. The company was forced to stop using the Ansel Adams name. Then, something occurred to Rick. Something was very off.
It turns out that the company made $1.8 million in profit, but Rick didn’t see a cent of it. He was livid. How could they do this to him?
As time went on, more officials denounced the authenticity of the negatives, claiming they actually belonged to a photographer named Earn Brooks. After looking into it, Rick made a troubling discovery.
The company that was selling his prints, Media Partners Global, was owned by none other than Arnold Peter! The attorney pocketed a majority of the $1.8 million in profits behind Rick’s back. But how did he get away with it?
He used confusing legal jargon to put loopholes in their agreement. Even the people he hired were scammers! For Rick, suddenly his world seemed to come crashing down.
One of the appraisers in the scam, David Streets, turned out to be a convicted felon! He, along with the other “experts,” had been hired by Arnold to fake authentication of Rick’s negatives.
Naturally, Rick hired new attorneys — ones he actually vetted — to sue Arnold. But by that point, it was far too late.
Swindled out of the chance to make millions, Rick is limited to selling the prints online only under the title of “The Lost Negatives.”
With printing technology these days, however, business isn’t exactly booming. But Rick still has hope. Hope that justice will finally be served.