Sometimes things happen by design, and sometimes things happen on their own. The creation of the Ned Scott Archive was a logical response to occurrences which had little to do with the world of photography. And once established, the Archive rapidly began to take on a life all its own, guided not be the personal will of the archivist but by the inherent force within the work itself. This dynamic is at work in the present day, and it lends a vibrancy to the collection Ned Scott stowed away 70 years ago. New material frequently comes to light which fleshes out Ned Scott's photographic history, and a function of the Archive today is to properly sort and catalogue this material to enhance the story. But the first stirrings of the Archive were anything but the intentional pursuits of relevant photographic history. It had much to do with the archivist's own family circumstances.
Those circumstances are all too familiar. Divorce was pending. The reasons are not important to this discussion. But suffice it to say that it is an ancient problem, sordid and base. So, it was with the best of motives that the archivist began the quest to provide some semblance of order and stability for his only child, a son whose world was about to be irrevocably turned upside down by a process over which he had no control and in which outcome he had no say. The archivist felt responsible, perhaps guilt-ridden would be a better word. The idea was to soften the blow of such a catastrophe by providing some anchor to which this lost 9 year old boy could attach himself in a world suddenly filled with confusion and doubt. Turning to the past appeared to provide some interesting possibilities to fill the bill. Fortunately, many stored items of personal correspondence surrounding Ned Scott's early career as a photographer were available. Some letters were located with interesting and collectible stamp history features, and preparing these for a gift presentation quietly and inexorably lead to the discovery of the the wide diversity of Ned Scott's early work. This aspect was revealed in the letters still neatly tucked into their respective covers (cancelled envelopes) from 1935-40. The writer's eyes were opened to a man he never knew as a child, a charismatic artist in the wild thrust of creativity. That Christmas this boy received these letters with their covers, and the whole assembly was stuffed with photographs Ned Scott created in that period during forays around Arizona. There are pre-dedication images of Boulder Dam, sweeping panoramas of Monument Valley and the 1800 acre Buena Vista Ranch in Nogales, old facades from turn-of-the-century days in Tombstone, the quaint little Tonalea Trading Post and the Grand Canyon. Images of the pueblo ruins of Betatakin and Canyon de Chelly grace the pages of this binder as well. This gift binder grew and grew as letters revealed more and more of what Ned Scott was doing. It ended up far more fitting and accomplished than first imagined. And what's more important, it grew into an enduring process of discovery of Ned Scott's photographic history.
Far more preferable to this writer, however, was the normal and healthy growth of his family, free of strife. Had this been the case, and had the writer seen his familial desires fulfilled, the Ned Scott Archive would not have been born. All those items of photographic history--the prints and negatives, the letters, the documents, the magazines and newspapers, the cards and ephemera--would have remained as they were right after Ned Scott tucked them away in cases and boxes and folders 62 years ago. It would have been best for lots of reasons, but it was not in the cards. Out of one's loss something new was born, quite unexpected and unlooked for. The early personal notes convey this theme, and they chronicle the first major event in the history of the archive: the recognition of Ned Scott in the permanent collection of photography in Centro Cultural / Arte Contemporaneo of Mexico City.
As the early notes emphasize, these Ned Scott images were ones previously acquired in 1981 at auction by Manual Alvarez Bravo. Having just returned from a visit to MOMA and the Paul Strand Archive, this author was armed with irrefutable evidence of the misuse of Ned Scott imagery for the personal gain of Augustin Chavez. It was this unwelcome news which spurred the author to create the Ned Scott Archive as a formal entity to combat the blatant fraud perpetrated by Chavez, and this act led to the propitious contact with officials at the Mexico City museum only two weeks following the creation of the archive. This fraud made sense to this writer because he had proprietary knowledge only the Scott family would know: that Chavez "borrowed" 89 negatives from Ned Scott's widow, Gwladys, in mid-1979 for the stated purpose of mounting a photographic display of Strand and Scott prints at the Palace of Fine arts in Mexico City. Since matters were rapidly attaining a level of formality, the archivist called his sister, Penney Sing, in Honolulu to inform her of actions taken and why. Mrs. Sing expressed dismay at the news of Chavez' fraud. But she refused to contribute any funds toward the effort to combat the fraud. Since only a small amount of money, relatively speaking, had been expended so far on archive business, this author felt that the financial aspect was a burden he could shoulder. This turned out to be a highly inaccurate judgment as unforeseen programs, activities and events loomed in the future which would require much larger sums.
Looking back from the standpoint of 2011, the archivist can take great satisfaction from the fact that Chavez' fraud has been exposed. Just as Chavez made and produced modern day prints from orignial Scott negatives which he sold at auction as original Strand platinum prints, he also created portfolios of 32 mounted prints each and he promoted them as Ned Scott and Paul Strand prints from "Redes". Fortunately for the archive, one of these was auctioned in 2008. Included with the portfolio was the group of prints which Ned Scott made and gave to Gunther von Fritsch, 43 in all, in December 1934. These had great value and the archive paid $23,000 for the group. Not only did Gunther's prints find their way back to the archive, but the portfolio which Chavez had created to defraud both Strand and Scott became available for study and examination. The archive quickly determined that Chavez made very amateur silver gelatin prints in his attempt to pass them off as Strand platinum and original Scott silver gelatin prints. That these crudely done prints were sold fraudulently and accepted as Strand and Scott originals just boggles the mind, the fact stupeyfying on its face. Curators and auction houses must have had a serious blind spot. But recent history has shown that they indeed were purchased that way by unwary investors. Now when these portfolios emerge for sale, they are correctly priced and their value reflects only their historical significance, not any inherent art value. The original sales price of these portfolios is unknown, but what is known is that one print sold in the early 1980's as a Strand platinum brought "a very large sum of money", according to Anthony Montoya, then the Director of the Paul Strand archive. All of these prints which Chavez created in 1981-82 were lab-produced from original Scott 5 x 7 negatives which Chavez had borrowed from Gwladys Scott in mid-1979.