Ansel Adams … or Uncle Earl?

“Oh my God!” Esteban called from the bathroom. I thought he’d finally succeeded in pushing a Q-tip all the way through his head. It really freaks me out how he can make those things practically disappear into his ear.

But no. Instead, he was reacting to the news that someone had bought a box of Ansel Adams negatives at a garage sale for $45. A team of experts had just authenticated the negatives and valued them at $200 million. (Note to self: Start shopping at garage sales.)

Just a couple of days later, evidence is emerging that the photos may in fact be the work of Uncle Earl. You know, Uncle Earl Brooks … longtime Fresno resident and hobbyist photographer?

I can already imagine the protracted legal battle that will ensue as both sides bring in teams of experts to argue their case.

Truth is, we’ll probably never know for sure whether those images represent the “missing link” in Adams’ career, or the sum total of Uncle Earl’s weekend wanderings.

There is no doubt that Ansel Adams was an extraordinary photographer. But if the images turn out not to be his, will that make them any less beautiful?

Once again I’m reminded that art should exist for its own sake. Attaching a price tag often detracts from its meaning and distorts its true value.

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