I have been engaged recently in a discussion of including other people’s art work within your photographs; whether or not that is plagiarism or can be claimed to be art.
I use a lot of other people’s art in my photography. It started with the project that Janet and I worked on which I called Art in the City. We worked at documenting the various pieces of outdoor art located in Houston. Of course that was mostly for the purpose of creating documentation rather than a separate piece of art.
It took on a slightly different twist with photographing the religious artifacts in the Missions in San Antonio in 2007. That again started as documentation but before it was over morphed into using the artifacts as personal statement—which is something totally different.
Since then it has become a very big part of my photography, especially with my projects stemming from Hattersley’s article, Is Photography Your Religion, where I am using religious artifacts, mainly the crucifix, to create personal statements about my religious concepts.
I have a friend that has seemed to upset a number of people that we know because she uses photographs of art in much the same way I have with the crucifix although not nearly to the same extent. She also has a very large collection of photographs of mine and has used a few of them. I went through my collection, pulled out images I thought she might be able to use and gave them to her specifically for the purpose of using any or all that she wished in her work. That has seemed to upset a few people that I consider extremely narrow minded. They have suggested that my friend is plagiarizing my work. I totally disagree. Plagiarism is appropriating a work of art and claiming it as your original work. And those that worry about copyright; that only applies to commercial work, not art. My personal belief is that those that cry the loudest have little to worry about. Their work is actually really safe.
I and my friend have done something very similar to what Richard Prince did with the Marlborough ads—using them in a transformative way. Of course, I feel certain that Prince’s work infuriates the narrow minded crowd, much wailing and gnashing of teeth. These new works create new meaning, new concepts with manipulations of my images. As long as that is okay with me I can’t see how it concerns the busy bodies. But it seems to.
I know a lot of people that go downtown and (photograph the buildings. Are they plagiarizing? A piece of architecture is no less a work of art than a photograph or a sculpture. If you include a sculpture in your photograph down town are you plagiarizing? No. Some people just have very narrow concepts and that doesn’t bother me. It does bother me when they seem to feel free to insist that everyone else be as narrow minded—especially when they broadcast derogatory remarks about people that use works of art in their photographs.
I haven’t spent a great deal of time on this section and don’t desire to; but going back through the history of photography and looking at a few of the well-respected practitioners I have developed a question.
If you photograph the Spinks, the Pyramids, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Westminster Abby, or Michelangelo’s David, are you plagiarizing? Of course not. There is no difference.
Aaron Siskind did some marvelous photographs of torn advertising posters. Someone created those posters, not Siskind. Is his photographs plagiarism? Is that any different from taking sections of a piece of street graffiti?
Atget’s entire collection of work was built on photographing the buildings and art pieces of Paris. He didn’t build any of them.
Minor White photographed barns and parts of barns—oh, yeah, the same people that get upset when you use someone else’s work in your work probably have too. Hey what about the Golden Gate, the Statue of Liberty.
Even more egregious is Edward Weston’s toilet. Someone formed the clay that molded this porcelain throne. Weston made no effort to change it, to abstract it, simply to capture it in all its beauty of line. The same people that disapprove of my friend’s use of art in her manipulated pieces would have no problem with Siskind, Atget, White or Weston. Even Weston’s cabbage leaf is someone else’s work of art. No their narrow mindedness cannot affect those pieces so they tear at my friend. They should be so talented.