My initial plans for this project were to gain access to people’s homes where I would be able to talk to them about some of the specific issues they had experienced but despite my efforts through my postcard scheme, talking to people whilst out and about and asking in social networks I was unable to get a response from anyone that would allow me to enter their home and create images. With more time I am sure I could have eventually managed something but with time short I needed to re-evaluate my position and come up with something different.
It is not ideal to have to change my plans at such a late stage but I have decided to create composite images. With each of my images I would like to incorporate some of my own work where possible but I know this will not always be the case and some of my images will be made up entirely from other people’s work.
Using other people’s images is something I have never done before and prior to coming to University is not something I would have ever considered doing. In fact I would go as far as saying I would have been utterly opposed to the notion by overtime my opinions have changed. I have begun to think differently and that the creation of an image is a lot about the artists vision and that, as Richard Prince proved that work can be transformed to such an extent that it can take on a whole new meaning. (See blog my blog post here The Prince and the Pauper) but my thoughts started to change when I came across the work of David LaChappelle.
David’s is known for his elaborate creations which an enormous amounts of work go into however he has a whole team around him in which he imparts his vision and they go about creating the sets. Once they are built David just shoots what he wants. Previously I always felt that it was the photographers responsibility to create everything, that it was never fully their work unless they had physically made everything themselves. Gregory Crewdson is another photographer that works in a similar way. He works with a huge budget and has huge sets created around his vision. After shooting there is a large team of people who work on the post processing and it is not down to Crewdson himself to produce the final work.
However the above artists work is very much their own, even if others are involved in the construction of the idea. It is the divisive world of copyright where things really begin to get interesting.
Before I came across the Cariou Vs Prince legal battle I had read about another equally fascinating contest between two photographers.
In 2011 a high-profile case saw prominent photographer Janine Gordon sue Ryan McGinley for for damages relating to copyright infringement over 150 images when she claimed McGinley had stolen her intellectual property rights. The thefts took place over a 10 year period with Gordon seeking thousands in compensation.
The images are clearly not identical but the claim was made that McGinley’s work was derived from Gordon’s earlier images and the debate split photographers across the globe with many art critics stating that they clearly believed that Gordon’s style and influence was quite obvious in McGinley’s images.
When it came to court however it was McGinley that emerged triumphant with his legal team successfully arguing that although there are obvious similarities that one person cannot claim ownership over certain image concepts. Examples cited included a person sat on a spotted horse, someone gazing up at the sky or an interracial couple kissing.
The case also examined the lighting, composition and content of each image and determined that in each case there was sufficient variation that copyright infringement could not be claimed.
So although copyright can protect an image the concept of an image is not the sole property of anyone and that allows other photographers to freely make work, even with similar meaning around the same concepts.
Once fiercely protective of copyright my attitudes were changing but it was during a lecture by Matt Johnston that finally made me see things differently when he showed us the work ‘After Walker Evans’ by Sherrie Levine. Hugely controversial it provoked outrage in photographic circles when Sherrie Levine re-published the work of Walker Evans as her own. This re-appropriation of the images was done without any alteration of the originals at all and side by side you would struggle to tell the difference. Despite the many protestations from various corners Levine was making a statement behind the works intent and challenged our conceptions of ownership. The original works were taken for a very different reason and with Levine’s intent to re-introduce older work to a contemporary audience allowing people to enjoy it again or for a first time she has created an original intent different from Walker Evans.
It was this that put me at ease with the notion of using others work for my own purpose. If the goal is to create a piece of work that accurately represents my intent then whatever tools I use to achieve that is acceptable. With this in mind I approached the idea of making my own composite images with much less guilt.