The Fresno, Calif., painter — who has a penchant for antique hunting on his days off — was rummaging through boxes at a garage sale when he came across 65 glass negatives that were wrapped in newspapers from 1942 and 1943.
Turns out the negatives, which Norsigian bought for $45 after talking the seller down from $70, are those of the famous nature photographer Ansel Adams. And they’re worth hundreds of millions, according to some appraisers.
"These photographs are really the missing link," said Arnold Peter, a lawyer for Norsigian, at the unveiling of the negatives at a Los Angeles art gallery Tuesday. "They really fill the void in Ansel Adams' early career."
A team of experts put together by Norsigian said the glass plates, which portray scenes from Yosemite National Park and San Francisco, were likely taken between 1919 and the early 1930s. They were previously believed to have been destroyed in a 1937 darkroom fire that consumed 5,000 glass negatives.
"This illuminates a very important part of his evolution as an artist because this is the work that he did in his 20s,” Patrick Alt, a photography expert who says the prints are authentic, told the L.A. Daily News in November 2009. “He had images that didn't fit in anywhere, that show he is trying to discover his voice, to fully realized Ansel Adams masterpieces."
Adams is best known for his striking black-and-white photographs, mainly landscapes, of the American West. He died in 1984 at 82.