Monday, February 9, 2009

I Object


Apologies for continuing to harp on the Shepard Fairey/Mannie Garcia situation, but I think the underlying issues are of vital importance to photographers. I promise I'll get back to posting about interesting photography shows, new photo books, wacky web shots, Kate Moss updates, and random images that cross my path. However ...

An interesting piece by Jonathan Melber in the Huffington Post today on the legal issue of "fair use". As I was reading it, I figured out what irks me so much. There's nearly always a suggestion in these discussions that if you don't back the artist (as opposed to the photographer) you're trampling on their freedom of expression. In these situations (not all of which went to court) - Jeff Koons and Andrea Blanch, Richard Prince and the original photographers of the Marlboro Men campaign, Warhol and Frank Powolny (who took the Marilyn Monroe photograph), and now Fairey and Garcia - there's an implication that defining yourself as an "artist" as opposed to a "photographer" makes you more important and gives you special privilege. It also implies that a straightforward photograph is of lesser significance or value than a painting or conceptual work of art.

I object.

16 comments:

Susan said...

Spot on!

sonny said...

and so you should

Rob said...

I agree that the problem with Melber's argument comes from the narrow minded view that art only comes from "artists."

Using his definition of transformation I could take that book he's selling on Amazon for $11.53, "Art Work: Everything You Need to Know (and Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career (Paperback)"spruce up the copy so it reads better, add some brilliant photographs, make it hardbound and sell it for $50 in the MOMA bookstore.

walter said...

query -- if fairey had cleared the picture for commercial use with AP, what would the charges have been?

Does AP even make provisions for multi-copy reuse like this?

nina said...

Thank you for saying this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! Fairey is hiding under the guise of popular sentiment. This overwhelming majority do not comprehend and/or does not care about the creative process. THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect of the piece in question = the portrait = the photograph. His nonchalance coupled with his history of systematically "appropriating" images as his own should bother all artists. Its up to the fine art community...

Alice Olive said...

Couldn't agree more. Photographers' rights seem so easily and unfairly discounted. Excellent post.

Chris said...

I think that AP is over-reaching and Garcia has distanced himself from them. It is a little scary that the AP is trying to assert that they own the copyright of the work of a freelancer who didn't sign an agreement.

With that said, permission should have been asked of Garcia and credit given. In fact, I believe all that Garcia wanted was the respect of a credit. In the process of asking for permission Fairey should have offered compensation and judging from Garcia's remarks he probably would not have wanted it. How is it any different then if Jay Z takes a sample of an outdated song and "transforms" it into a hit? Permission is needed and compensation is given.

Nathan said...

Well said.

Jonathan Melber said...

Hi, I'm the author of the Fairey article and have updated the piece to try and address (from the legal point of view) the concern that James raises, and that many of you second.

I appreciate all your comments and, in case it needs to be stated for the record, absolutely agree that photographers create art just as any other artists do.

I've pasted the update below; you can also find it here: http://tinyurl.com/d99buc.

*****
... This is a very important aspect of the discussion that, given Danziger's reaction, I probably should have explained more clearly: There is no difference, in value, significance or privilege, between a conceptual work of art and a photograph. It is not an issue of heirarchy, or a debate about what counts as art.

Photographers are artists, and copyright law protects them as much as any other kind of artist. They may create new images using the images of other people's artwork (photographs, paintings, video stills, sculpture, etc.) as long as what they do meets the "fair use" test I describe above. And they may prevent other people from using their images in a way that doesn't count as "fair use."

There are artists, for example, who draw scenes from courtroom trials for news organizations. The fact that their work serves a news function doesn't diminish the value of drawing, or suggest that drawing is "of lesser significance" than other art.

The "fair use" question is not focused on the perceived value of one work of art compared to another, but rather the functional or qualitative differences between them. Had Fairey made his image to accompany a news story about the conference Obama was attending at the National Press Club, he would have a much weaker "fair use" case.

Don said...

Absolutely well stated, sir. Well stated. This 'appropriation' of photography must stop as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Mr. Melber for his "clarification and correction."

jaydee

Jordana Zeldin said...

Re: Don and a few others: I don't think that James is saying that appropriation of photography must stop. After all, he both agreed to exhibit Fairey's artwork and (I assume, as a gallerist) profit from it- am I off base here, James? I think he was objecting to the idea that "art" or the art-maker is somehow on a higher plane than "photography" and the photographer. I, too, object to that notion.

As for the controversy, I don't think appropriation is such a bad thing. I think of art as being one big conversation. Each piece of art put out into the world (be it a photo or a painting, a "great" work or a lousy one) is a part of that conversation. Fairey took Garcia's photo and essentially "made it new" (or better?)- hell, new enough for the photographer who took it to not even recognize it until all the hoopla started about finding out who took it in the first place. Fairey contributed to the conversation by building upon the image originally captured by Garcia and in the process, transformed it into something else entirely. Equally valuable, perhaps. Albeit very different.

I also think there's something to be said for audience/viewer reception here and how it can alter the perceived object (a bit like the ole "if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound, idea). No one that I know of responded to Garcia's original photo- it was just one in a sea of an infinite number of other mediocre Obama images- not particularly "iconic." Maybe it didn't "work" as a photograph? Now the response to Fairey's work for whatever reason was overwhelming. Clearly the image was more effective as a woodblock print.

Since communication and response are such vital components of art, considering that the reception of these two pieces was so vastly different, I would say that they have very little to do with one another save the source material: Obama and what he represents, and the fact that they are both two components of the same important conversation.

Now if only we could get Obama to mention Art along with Math and Science in his speeches about reviving this country's failing education system...

Peter said...

I am so tired of this friggin' debate! Unless an artist or photographer posts their work for the taking under Creative Commons it holds fast to its' genesis as creative work that is proprietary intellectual property.

If I had a brick and mortar store you would not be allowed to just walk in and take what you want.( or at least risk a 45 caliber correction) The old tired argument that everthing on the web is free for the taking is bullshit. That died with the Darpa era. If I wanted you to have free and unfettered access to my work I would have registered the domain www.stealmystuff.com

indigo16 said...

I totally agree, and if I was playing devils advocate, having taught both Fine Art and Photography to A'Level I could argue that Fine art is just a triumph of good motor skills.
From the students point of view Photography is far more intellectually demanding. Students who take both subjects say Photgraphy is far harder and more rigourous in creating visually literate students.
I have enjoyed this debate though, as it is a departure from the usual Paint V Print argument. On a personal level if I had to watch an artist gain all the kudos from one of my images, I would feel sick to the bottom of my stomach. I am so glad that he is taking a stand as it will hopefully make others think twice before they purloin images for themselves.

Sophia said...

Thanks so much for this insight. You bring up an ongoing issue about perception of photography as art. This is a critical piece of this controversy that has indeed been overlooked. I've posted on these issues at Zoom In Online's photography blog. Would like to hear your thoughts on the ideas I bring up.

Sophia Betz, Zoom In Online
http://www.zoom-in.com/blog/photography/sophia-betz/hope-and-change-fairey-vs-the-associated-press