When a team of “experts” manage to get something wrong — especially when that team decides that they have decisively come to the only correct conclusion possible — it confounds us and makes us wonder how we can ever trust people that call themselves experts.

When a gentleman bought a set of photographic negatives at a garage sale, he left them under a billiards table for a few years, and then decided he should see what they really were. That’s when the team of experts stepped in. That is, that is when the team of experts decided conclusively that the negatives were taken by none other than American photography legend Ansel Adams:

Arnold Peter, the lawyer who led the effort to authenticate that the negatives were made by the man known as the father of American photography, said their approach was “to put these negatives on trial.”

Experts, including a former FBI agent and a U.S. attorney, “came to the conclusion that, based on the evidence which was overwhelming, that no reasonable person would have any doubt that these, in fact, were the long-lost images of Ansel Adams,” Arnold said.

The photographs were from the early career of the famed nature photographer, a period that is not well documented since a 1937 darkroom fire destroyed 5,000 of his plates, Arnold said.

“It truly is a missing link of Ansel Adams and history and his career,” said Beverly Hills appraiser and art dealer David W. Streets.

It would seem to be a happy story. The man found valuable photographs at a garage sale and was now going to be $200 million USD richer — more than enough to retire. Of course, sometimes the truth has to come out and ruin a beautiful fantasy.

Only a few days after the original story broke, a Bay Area woman came forward with strong evidence that the photographs were actually taken by her Uncle Earl:

Scott Nichols of the Nichols Gallery in San Francisco has been studying Adams and his photography for 30 years.

He visited Walton Wednesday to examine the photo. Nichols took measurements, studied the lighting and angles of the image.

Nichols said the similarities between Uncle Earl’s photo and Norsigan’s purported Adams original were striking. Only the clouds are different. Nichols said that could mean Uncle Earl’s photo is from another negative, taken moments later during the same shoot.

“What I find very interesting is the shadow detail down in here,” said Nichols with the photo in hand. “The shadows in the sunlight over here and over in here are almost identical.”

It’s all well and good to be an expert on a subject matter. When a group of experts come along and say that something has to be a certain way, perhaps it is worth raising an eyebrow and asking why.

2 Comments

    1. Funnily enough, it hasn’t been determined 100% either way — yet the sale goes on! The experts cannot seem to agree.

      Adams expert Scott Nichols, of SF’s Scott Nichols Gallery, looked at Uncle Earl’s images at the request of KTVU and found them convincing — pointing to shadows, for instance, that are the same from the disputed negatives and Uncle Earl’s collection. The fact that the negatives were found in Fresno and Uncle Earl lived in Fresno is also interesting.

      “The probability that it’s not Uncle Earl is low,” said Nichols, “But there’s not enough info to be exact.”

      http://www.baycitizen.org/visual-art/story/ansel-adams-uncle-earl/

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