mickyates Art, Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Critical Theory, Ethics, SSWeek2, SurfacesStrategies Leave a Comment



Top: Susan Meiselas (1979) The Molotov Man;

Bottom: Joy Garnett (2003) Molotov from the series Riot

The brief: Joy Garnett is known for her paintings inspired by accessible digital images. Following an exhibition of her work in 2004, Garnett received a cease and desist letter citing infringement of copyright, from a lawyer representing Susan Meiselas. After a debate, which became known as ‘Joywar’, both put forward their perspectives in an article for Harpers Magazine titled ‘On the Rights of the Molotov Man’. We were asked to think about how you would feel if someone created an artwork that appropriated, referenced or remixed your image. Other than legal action, how could you use your practice to resolve the issue? Try to think about the debate at different scales as well as in different contexts.

I can see lots of thoughtful comments on this issue on Canvas, many of which I agree with. It is interesting that, despite the debate, and threatened action, Meiselas did not sue.

Perhaps even more importantly, at the end of the article published in Harper’s Magazine in 2007, Meiselas notes:

‘I still feel strongly, as I watch Pablo Arauz’s context being stripped away – as I watch him being converted into the emblem of an abstract riot-that it would be a betrayal of him if I did not at least protest the diminishment of his act of defiance’.

I would personally be pretty upset if my work was used without attribution, though happy if it were used creatively in new work with attribution of the original.

I think that Meiselas hits the nail on the head.


Garnett was not deliberately trying to rip Meiselas off, as far as anyone can tell. But she was appropriating an image into a different context. I do think she should have acknowledged the original more forthrightly. But her right to re-contextualise seems clear.

Consider two other cases, one directly connected, and one elliptically connected, but both dealing with appropriation.

Image from MoMa

1. Andy Warhol and the soup cans.

Warhol treated the can (and, importantly, its design) as a found object. In the spirit of Pop Art he photographed it (in 1962) in its many varieties, and considered it ripe for mass reproduction.

To my knowledge, the original designer of the label never got credit from Warhol.

Yet Campbell’s themselves apparently liked the idea, and sent Andy a case of soup!

In another fascinating twist, Campbell’s themselves went ‘meta’ on Warhol by creating a special series of cans using Warhol’s work, first in 2004 and then later in 2012.

We can now find the Warhol poster everywhere, as in the header to this post.

I am not sure who is getting the royalties …

Stepping back, my point is that appropriation and re-appropriation in different contexts seems an acceptable norm. Had Garnett simply copied Meiselas’ image and claimed it (a la Richard Prince) I think I would be more troubled. That’s something we all are affected by on Social Media.

On my blogs I allow freedom to copy but not change via a Creative Commons 3.0 non-commercial non-deriv license . I also occasionally ‘police’ this via Pixsy, which has allowed me to execute a few takedowns. However, my work is hardly famous enough to require a lot of police work!

On my photography site, items are download protected, although i realise that will not stop screen grabs.

Let me turn to a broader example of appropriation – that of human beings.

2. The Hornsleth Homeless Tracker

‘The Hornsleth Homeless Tracker’ (HHT), is the new major conceptual artwork, two years in the making, by Danish provocateur Kristian von Hornsleth.

The HHT is an ethical boundary smashing work, which fuses homelessness, privacy invasion, inequality and reality TV, with present day cultural decadence and interactive conceptual art.

The HHT follows Hornsleth as he buys homeless people from the streets of London and sells them as art works to private collectors.

Each homeless, has been fitted with a tracking device allowing their owner to follow them 24-7 via a private app, effectively converting the homeless into a real-life Pokémon Go or human Tamagotchi. The owners will receive a real gold portrait of their homeless.

The public will also be able follow the struggles of their favorite homeless characters through YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Tinder’.

In a word, NO. This seems to be artistically defendable (exploration of surveillance, the art market, etc.) but ethically unacceptable.

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should.

Slavery in the name of Art.

Would welcome everyone’s views.

S&S Week One Reflections

mickyates Collage, Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Documentary, Environmental, Personal, Photography, Practice, Reflections, SSWeek1, SurfacesStrategies, Traces, Travel Leave a Comment

I consider my photography is about storytelling (when I get things right, that is). And I call this ‘Unfinished Stories‘, because the best that any photograph can do is to show a fragment of what is going on, freezing moments. The context of that moment help the understanding of the image. Bt there is always a ‘before’ and and ‘after’, which makes it unfinished.

My practice currently revolves around documentary, informal (environmental) portraiture and events. In fact, just yesterday I was shooting an event for a local political group. And whilst my family and friends used to wince when I raised my camera, I know find myself often being asked ‘Can you take our / our kids picture, please?’

Historically, most of my photography was travel-based. We are lucky to have lived and travelled all over them world, for the last five decades. As noted elsewhere I have all my images. I have a project in progress going through the archives, and creating ‘Seventy Five Countries.

At some point I would like to exhibit, and publish a book (I have self-published before). I can already see that whilst I was a travel photographer, the people lives that I encountered was always important. I used to be shy about capturing that, though – a problem I rarely have these days.

Environmental portraiture is new passion, in the sense that I challenged myself in this area a few years back, when I started to have more time for photography.

A photographer that I admire in this area is Sarah Lee, who has subsequently become a friend and occasional mentor. I admire the way she gets the environment to work for her, to tell the subject’s story, and her use of ambient and fill-in light is most instructive.

That said, a lot of Sarah’s current professional work is black and white (she is the official BAFTA photographer). Sarah loves colour in her personal work, and although I occasionally use B&W, colour is really my main interest – going back to my painting days. Also, whilst Sarah does some long-term documentary work (she has just fund raised for a book), she is primarily a photo-journalist, capturing the moment.

In the Cambodian project, I am exploring time and its effects, rather than ‘moments’. I can see that I will probably need to use varying media and presentation techniques, or else the result will be static and less engaging for my eventual audiences.

I also believe that my practice needs to break loose from some of its (self-imposed?) structures. I have perhaps become over-focused on technical compositions, shapes and layouts. I am thus exploring ways to break free, a little more. It is ironic, as I have been a long time fan of Daido Moriyama, and all things Provoke. I am experimenting:

In my P&P Project Proposal, which was quite well received, I mentioned that I needed to work harder on ‘unengaged’ portraits. I think my tutors misunderstood what I meant. I am seeking to capture more candid, less ‘face to camera’ portraits to better tell stories and show their emotional context. This is especially important as today we all seem to ‘pose’ instinctively when cameras and phones are pointed our way.

In the Proposal, I also started to explore ‘traces‘ of the Genocide, though as Jesse pointed out, I could easily fall foul of ‘Dark Tourism’ traps and triteness. On reflection, I think the ‘traces’ need to focus more on the visitor’s response to the scene, more than the scene itself. I intend to do mini-project work in the UK, to develop this idea, to help with on-the-ground shooting in Cambodia.

Surfaces & Strategies is already opening my eyes to other ways of seeing, shooting and presenting my work. I find myself drawn to montage work as I develop the Cambodian project, to tell the story from multiple dimensions over time and space. This thinking (and the Ed Ruscha project) has encouraged me to look again at some of my very early ‘pop’ work.

All that said, I am also an ‘opportunistic’ photographer. I shoot something every day, with camera or phone. I have a decent Instagram presence, using it as a diary more than as a formal showcase for my work. Facebook is a good for both getting my work in front of others, getting whatever feedback I can, and is a source of inspiration. My blogs are reasonably well read (a long-standing passion) though the eclectic subject matter might not help my eventual practice focus.

Whilst I am pleased with the redesign of my main website and photo blog, I accept that there is a lot there, and more focus may be required! As this program develops, and my practice becomes clearer, I expect some new, simpler, more ‘on point’ approaches to exhibiting my Cambodian work will emerge.

I have found this CRJ very useful as both an aide-memoire and to push me on explaining my thinking, and have used it since the beginning of the program. Design wise, I opted for efficient and clear – so I can find things, with lots of menu items, cross-referencing and tags. Maybe not the most ‘artistic’, but it works for me as a research tool rather than an artistic showcase. It also serves as a repository for our Cambodian archives.