Thursday, July 29, 2010

Volume Five - Special Issue - 2010

Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

This is a special issue of IMAGE to bring you up to date with developments which have been taking place for many years behind the scenes, so to speak.  In the last 24 hours I have been contacted several times regarding a statement made on the Ansel Adams Blog by Adams grandson, Matthew Adams.
In his statement, for which he sought no authentication from myself, I was quoted as having stated the glass plate images now known as the Norsigan Negatives, and which have been valued at $200,000,000, were not my Grandfather's work. I never made any such statement and, in fact, think they may well be.  My requests and suggestions for objective authentication were ignored by all parties.
I prepared a statement regarding these negatives and the other materials which I examined myself in 2002 at the Norsigan home in Fresno.  These would, perhaps, be minor issues except for ancillary events which document a long time pattern of behavior on the part of the Adams Family. 
Adams goes on to state, "Arthur Pillsbury was active in Yosemite, and moved from Yosemite to Los Angeles."  One has to wonder what the man is smoking. The many inaccuracies which have flowed from the Adams Family as a source, working their way into published works, over the decades in regards to my Grandfather can no longer be tolerated.  That, along with the lack of any standards for reputable research, ignoring the obligation to contact me before publishing, and lack of attribution for his statements, must end. I immediately demanded a retraction and have not heard from him or anyone else associated with the Adams Family. 

My statement is below. An edition of the usual newsletter will be out in a month and, with an article on AC's  lectures, contain an articles on these events. If you would like to receive further updates please send a notice to

John Clark, a member of our Board of Directors and a good family friend, has agreed to assist us in this matter as a media liaison.  John is a producer and director

Further Information
Contact: John Clark
P.O. Box 3869
Hollywood, CA 90078


The following statements were attributed to me on the Ansel Adams blog site and are factually untrue and do not correctly reflect any comment ever made by myself.

From Matthew Adams on the Ansel Adams Blog, July 24, 2010,“That is a subjective opinion, but does narrow the field of alternatives. Boysen, Fiske, & Watkins were deceased by the estimated time of the negatives. Arthur Pillsbury was active in Yosemite, and moved from Yosemite to Los Angeles, however the negatives have been disclaimed by his grand-daughter, Melinda Pillsbury-Foster.”

I never disclaimed a possibility the negatives or the nitrate film, which Mr. Norisigan told me were in the envelopes at the time he bought them, were my Grandfather's work. Mr. Norisigan asked me to view the materials and I did so, visiting him and his wife at their home in Fresno in late autumn, 2002. While there, I examined both an assortment of glass negatives and envelopes. The visit lasted several hours and included a lengthy discussion on Mr. Norisigan's contacts with the Adams family. I made notes at the time and have now reviewed them. The information relayed to me concerned the materials being examined, how these were acquired, and his attempts to deal with issues raised by the Adams Family visit to view the materials in his possession.

Regarding Adams statement on my Grandfather's residence. My Grandfather lived in Berkeley-Oakland from 1906 until his death in 1946, a well known fact since he was a nationally known lecturer and had lead the application of photography to science. The list of his inventions includes the lapse-time camera for plants, (1912) the microscopic motion picture camera, (1927), the x-ray motion picture camera, (1929), and an underwater motion picture camera, (1930), which he used to produce films for his lecture series heard and seen by scientists and the general public around the world.

I offered Mr. Norisigan this opinion. The glass negatives appeared to be high quality, professionally produced images of the classical tourist sites of Yosemite. This was obvious at a glance. I had seen similar images, what my Grandfather called, 'Production Photos,' by the other professional photographers who worked in the Valley as well as my Grandfather's. Similar images by other photographers I had seen were produced on paper, however. I suggested, because of the similarity in all these common shots, Norisigan have these compared to the work of all photographers known to have worked in Yosemite using appropriate forensic equipment. Even with very similar professional images differences in the trees, clouds, and flow of water can make identifying the photographer certain by comparison with known work.

I further advised him to seek information on the numbering systems used by Yosemite photographers from Leroy Radonovich, the recognized expert on the subject.

During the course of my visit I told Mr. Norisigan I was aware of only two photographers who had systems which included numbers during the years which Norisigan named as the dates assigned to the glass negatives and envelopes. My Grandfather was one of these. The second, whose name evades me at this moment, had less than 1,000 photos in his collection.

The numbers on the envelopes I viewed were four digits, the first number of each being '8.' The numbers fit into a lost section of my Grandfather's collection, which I have worked to reassemble for over twenty years. By 1927 Grandfather's collection numbered in the many thousands. Grandfather routinely named his photo images as well as using a numbering system. The name and number did not vary, no matter how the image was produced, though in some cases, for instance on the d'orotones, the name did not appear on the image itself but on the label pasted on the back.

Before I left Mr. Norisigan provided me with Xeroxed copies of the envelopes, which are still in my possession.

I am not aware of any other Yosemite photographers who were producing d'orotones during this period. D'orotones were, of necessity, produced on glass at that point in time and Grandfather was selling many of these. Grandfather had produced a 6 foot square d'orotone for the head of a Hollywood studio around 1924. That piece sold for approximately $25,000 that same year.

I expressed the opinion at the time, and still believe, the 'Norisigan Negatives' might be my Grandfather's work. Through examination carried out by third parties I hoped to remove all doubt as to their origin.

I then suggested to Mr. Norisigan the glass plates in his possession be compared with the partially finished d'orotones I was shown by the Yosemite Chief Archivist on the occasion of my visit there in the early 90s.

This box of d'orotones, presumably still in the possession of the Yosemite Archives, I believe to be the work of Arthur C. Pillsbury. Not only did they strikingly resemble those produced at the Studio of the Three Arrows when I viewed them but the dates provided to me by the Chief Archivist as to when they were discovered would have coincided with the end of Grandfather's presence in the Valley, 1895 – 1928.

In the early 90s the box showed no sign of having been inventoried or examined. During the same visit I viewed an album of photos memorializing the building of the Glacier Point Hotel in 1918. The album followed the construction from the laying of foundations and was exhaustive, beautifully and professionally done. I commented on the likelihood these were taken by Grandfather to the Chief Archivist, who was standing with me as I leafed through the album. The Archivist pointed out they were not signed. I flipped the album over and the imprint of the Pillsbury Picture Company was on the back of the whole album. The Archivist made no further comment, refusing to discuss this or other issues.

It is not possible for competent professionals to overlook such clear evidence and fail to credit the individual who produced the work absent other factors. I found this, and other similar incidents disturbing.

At the time, and today, I believe the box of d'orotones to be my Grandfather's, stolen from his studio just before it was burned in November, 1927. These should be treated as possible evidence of a crime and compared to those presented as the Norisigan Negatives.

This research should be carried out by forensic experts unconnected to the Park Service, the Adams Family, or the Norisigan Team. All the items in question should also be fingerprinted and careful records of the full proceeding made public immediately.

Signed, July 29, 2010

Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

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