Ruta Saksens Kalmane
Updated: Mar 3
As a photographer one might choose to establish a career in the commercial sector or in the fine art sector, or perhaps balance it out in between them. The opportunities are broad, but finding the right place for oneself might be more challenging than it seems at the first glance.
The specifics of the chosen photography area will depend on the personal interests of the photographer. Since my practice is relatively new and still in its early developmental stages, I find myself still at the stage of divergence and not yet in the stage of convergence. Nielsen and Thurber explain these terms in following way:
‘Divergent thinking is all about expanding – generating lots of options, combining ideas, stretching for wild and unusual possibilities, all the while deffering judgement. […] Convergent thinking is all about contracting, tossing out the off-target ideas, and focusing on the few on-target options that will really help you reach your objective’ (2016: 65).
Fig. 1: Nielsen and Thurber. 2016. Diverge vs converge [graphic image]
I have tried to experiment with different subjects and methods of obtaining images. This process of diverging has given me clearer understanding of what suits me and what doesn’t. So far I can more precisely point out areas that I know for sure will not be suitable for my practice, but I haven’t found the specific place within the industry that I could name as the definite future of my practice. However, there are certain topics that I find more interesting than others, like nature, environment, wildlife, domestic animals, and flora and fauna in general. I have also realised that I am more attracted to non-human portrait photography than to other genres. I feel like the moment when to converge is approaching rapidly, and perhaps at that point I will have developed clearer understanding where I see myself in the photography industry. I also believe that collaboration is the key to push the practice a step forward. Therefore, trying to develop a network of collaborators could be useful for the future of my practice.
Collaboration should be seen as the opportunity to improve personal projects. By inviting other professionals to enrich one’s project, a photographer can achieve more unique outcome of the project. Photographers can collaborate with other photographers, their models, painters, sound engineers, scientists etc. The collaboration possibilities are endless. Photographers have collaborated since the invention of the medium - it has always been an important part of the industry. Just the mere fact that humans are and always have been social beings shows that collaboration is embedded in our DNA. For example, Daniel Palmer points out that Henri Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand didn’t develop their own prints, they collaborated with others who did it for them (2017: 8).
Furthermore, photographing subjects the activity of photography cannot be seen as an individual act. It takes two to tango, meaning that the collaboration already starts from the moment of picking up the camera. Whether it’s the collaboration between a photographer and the natural world (e.g. the sun, animals, wind), or it’s the collaboration between a model and a photographer, one cannot overlook the importance of whatever is on the other side of the viewfinder. On this matter, Palmer states that
‘if we move beyond the authorship of individual images and consider photography as a social and communicative activity, which unfolds over time, it turns out that most photography is collaboratively authored at some level’ (2017: 15).
Understandably, this notion of collaboration with others also raises questions of authorship. Who’s work is it considered at the end? This question is one which should be addressed at the beginning of the photographic activity, considering the exact role of others in the process, and this will depend greatly on the specifics of a project.
Another important aspect of photography, and in extension of art in general or any intellectual property, is ethics. Living in the age of postproduction means that data is as accessible as never before, travelling via online network over the globe within seconds, available for multiple interpretations and adaptations. Eduardo Navas mentions smartphone as an example of a postproduction device, and points out that the ‘immediacy of constant editing, inevitably, affects the way art and design is created. In effect, we have entered an advanced stage of postproduction which is closely informed by a sense of constant appropriation and remixing’ (2018: 2). Although data is so widely available for appropriating it, one should be careful of the choices he/she makes in relation to ethics. From time to time cases of art copyright infringement surface and leave room for a debate how far can an artist go with copying and borrowing ideas and appropriating another artist’s work.
This week we were asked to look at the copyright infringement case of a photographer Patrick Cariou against an artist Richard Prince and the gallery Gagosian.
Left: Fig. 2: Cariou 2000. Yes, Rasta [photograph]
Right: Fig. 3: Prince 2008. Canal Zone [photographic image]
Cariou claimed a copyright infringement, but at the end Prince won the case (detailed story available here: https://sites.udel.edu/cisc356/2014/03/19/copyright-blog-cariou-vs-prince/). I personally disagree with the judge’s decision, and I am on Cariou’s side in this case. For many artists the work they do is highly personal to them. If someone finds a specific work interesting for appropriation, in my opinion, this person should get a permission to appropriate it from the original author. It’s just purely ethical. It surprises me that the court ruled in favour of Richard Prince. There is already a law out there that taking and publishing photographs of people is forbidden without a written permission, because it’s violation of privacy. Isn’t appropriating someone’s work without a permission just the same violation? I am not implying that appropriation should be forbidden, I’m just in favour of asking permissions. Appropriation definitely gives room to creativity and it should be supported, however feelings of individual artists who do not wish their work to be changed should also be taken into consideration. My opinion would be different in case if Prince had tried to recreate the same environment and similar model for taking a new photograph, in which case his work would be having an intertextual meaning (the viewer being able to associate it with the original work). For me an exception are cases when artists appropriate works made by people who have died a long time ago, for example, the street artist Banksy has appropriated one of Claude Monet’s masterpieces creating a work with new meaning (‘Show Me the Monet’, 2005). When it comes to archival images, I believe the same should apply – getting a permission is the right thing to do.
There are plenty of examples across artistic disciplines when artists have used appropriation. The history of material sampling and remixing goes back to the beginning of the last century when collage and photomontage was widely used in Europe by Cubists, Surrealists and Dadaists (such as Hannah Höch and John Heartfield) to express views on politics, culture, gender roles. The same technique was used by poets when words cut out of newspapers were randomly rearranged to create new work (e.g. Tristan Tzara). Since then pre-existing material has been extensively used all over the world to create works with new meanings. Shepard Fairey uses appropriation, and his works have a lot of resemblance to their originals (e.g. poster ‘Hope’, 2009), which also raises discussions about copyright infringement.
In my opinion, if a certain pre-existing idea is taken by an artist, then the artist re-contextualises it and creates work that has a cultural citation to it, it can be considered as original work, because the idea has not been copied in a direct sense. If appropriation is used to the point when the original becomes completely unrecognizable, then it can be argued that the work has become an independent entity, for example Nancy Burson’s Beauty composites (1982), which include photographs of several famous women blended together to achieve a single photograph which doesn’t look exactly like any of the originals. Another example of an artwork that has the parts of the original object, but is changed in a way that it doesn’t resemble the original, is Picasso’s famous sculpture of bicycle seat and handlebar that have become a bull’s head and horns.
Fig. 4: Picasso 1942. Bull’s head [artwork]
Furthermore, Andrea Parker remixes music sounds from famous artists, as well as creates her own sounds to create new work. I find her sound works inspiring as I am planning to collaborate with a sound engineer on my current project to compliment photography with nature sounds. In the Week 2 discussion forum of my studies, my tutor mentioned the case between music groups Elastica and The Stranglers. Elastica chose to appropriate one of the songs by the Stranglets which resulted in a court decision for Elastica to pay money to the Stranglers, which the group paid and on top of it they offered to give a co-credit on the appropriated song. It's always good to hear about such positive outcomes as this one but this shouldn't be a norm. These cases shouldn't happen in the first place. Artists can borrow ideas and then mold them to give a new form, but they shouldn't just take them and hope that no one will notice. Once an artist does this, whatever he/she does in the future will always be questionable. It's really difficult to restore the faith in an artist once the copyright issues arise. Another interesting case is the case of Sam Leach creating a work that resembles a Dutch painting from the 1600s. The artist made a conscious decision to copy-paste. The painting in question was not an exact copy, but nevertheless the resemblance was too big. It just tells a lot about the ethical intelligence of the artist.
Permission to appropriate should be asked, and if the answer is 'no', then that should be respected. Ethics and empathy are qualities that separate us from the rest of the natural world as intelligent beings. I don't see a reason why following the answer 'no' a photographer should continue his intent anyway. For me personally, it looks like a throwback to an infantile stage of a five-year-old who hasn't developed the understanding between the right and wrong, thinking that 'I like what I see, so it's mine'. If the photographer, nevertheless, chooses to break the code of ethics and proceed with intended plan even after the other author has said 'no', the photographer should be ready to embrace the consequences since from there on he/she will have gained a certain public image, one that might close many doors for the photographer, since who would like to collaborate with someone who has no ethical boundaries? When it comes to my practice, I haven’t so far appropriated any works of other photographers. If I one day choose to do so, I will ask a permission first and then act accordingly. Bad fame spreads like wildfire.
LIST OF REFERENCES
NAVAS, Eduardo. 2018. Art, media design, and postproduction: open guidelines on appropriation and remix. London; New York: Routledge.
NIELSEN, Dorte and Thurber, Sarah. 2016. The secret of the highly creative thinker. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers.
PALMER, Daniel. 2017. Photography and collaboration: from conceptual art to crowdsourcing. London; New York: Bloomsbury.
LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1: Nielsen and Thurber. 2016. Diverge vs converge [graphic image]. From Dorte Nielsen and Sarah Thurber. 2016. ‘The secret of the highly creative thinker’ (p. 64). Amsterdam: BIS Publishers.
Figure 2: CARIOU, Patrick. 2000. Yes, Rasta [photograph]. From Intellectual Property. 2014. ‘Copyright Blog – Cariou vs. Prince’ [online]. Available at: https://sites.udel.edu/cisc356/2014/03/19/copyright-blog-cariou-vs-prince/ [accessed on October 1, 2021].
Figure 3: PRINCE, Richard. 2008. Canal Zone [photographic image]. From Intellectual Property. 2014. ‘Copyright Blog – Cariou vs. Prince’ [online]. Available at: https://sites.udel.edu/cisc356/2014/03/19/copyright-blog-cariou-vs-prince/ [accessed on October 1, 2021].
Figure 4: PICASSO, Pablo. 1942. Bull’s head [artwork]. From Pablo Picasso paintings, quotes & biography. N/D. ‘Bull’s Head, 1942 by Pablo Picasso’ [online]. Available at: https://www.pablopicasso.org/bull-head.jsp#prettyPhoto [accessed on October 1, 2021].