Saturday, April 23, 2011


A recent lawsuit by photographer Patrick Cariou against artist Richard Prince and the Gargosian Gallery made me think once again about the issue of using images, photos, found on line by sometimes, sometimes not, anonymous photographers. I’ve always been conscious about using photographer’s images and credit there where I feel credit is due and know who it belongs to. It’s a fair guess that on average 90 out of the 100 of my paintings each year the source material is provided by someone else's camera. In my paintings of musicians, photographs are sometimes blatantly copied. Appropriation in some paintings is not an appropriate term to describe the transformation from photo into painting. I never felt a great urgency to address the issue but now that I’m publishing and selling these paintings I feel the need to publicly address my thoughts on it. I don’t know much about copyright laws and often don’t even know if an image I use is copyrighted. What I do know about copyrights is that it’s closely related to ownership. Copyrights are for sale. This blog and me are not the place or person to go into philosophical or political rant as I am only concerned here with the ethical aspect of me using photographs by others.

 One ethical issue in this whole debate on copyright infringement and fair use of images that–as far as I know–has not been tackled, are the rights of the people portrayed in the photographs. In most of my paintings I feel that I’m painting a portrait of a musician rather than copying a photograph. My concerns are with the characteristics of the person, not the characteristics of the photograph. It’s about the musician not the camera that at one instant provided a still of this musician. To me the photo of Obama for example, made by Associated Press photographer Mannie Garcia and famously appropriated by Shephard Fairey for the “Hope” poster, is a snapshot and it’s ownership should really belong to Obama himself, if anyone. It really is about Obama and nobody else. My motto for the Top 100 series is that it is about them (the musicians) and not about me and if I would pay a commission on my (very modest) sales of these, I would be happy to pay the musicians portrayed a percentage. When I look for an image of a musician I find suitable for a painting I browse through many many images. The image I pick is for me a snapshot of the musician. Sometimes this snapshot is a real work of art but usually it is just a snapshot from a camera of a fan. It makes no difference to me, it’s about the person portrayed, not the portrayer. If the I in the painting becomes more important than the subject of it, the Top 100 would lose its integrity and reason to exist. The I exists only in the plurality of images, the series of 100 paintings, in the magnitude of the project, all the lists, writings, all of the thousands of drawings and paintings created over many years. There is a little hypocrisy in this statement as I continue to sell individual paintings. (I wish I could keep the series together all sell them as one but that is not a realistic goal at this point.) It would also be hypocrite (but wise) to only use copyright free images. I would prefer to go around and collect the source materials with my own camera but this if highly impractical and impossible as many of the musicians I paint do not live anymore.
My Top 100 project is based on hobby. It started out as a fan adoring his musical heroes and paying tribute by making portraits of them. It used to be a private boy room thing. The hobby has became obsession and the whole of the project has left the boy’s room and entered the status of being art. I did not consider the project “Art” for a long time  and am still cautious but I do present it as such (by virtue of showing in galleries). Art or not art, stealing or fair use, commercial or educational, I am now starting the Top 100 2011.

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