Is the World a Better or Worse Place Aesthetically With the Art of Richard Prince in It? Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
A lot of thrashing about has been taking place in the internet over the past few days over unauthorized use of digital imagery. Scoble wrote a post up about it and says, “steal my content, please.” Mashable has a post out regarding a recent YouTube take down request for a Web 2.0 video published by The Richter Scales. The video in question, by the way, used at least one unauthorized photograph of mine, specifically a photo of Om Malik.
My response to this unauthorized use of my imagery? Who gives a shit? I certainly don’t. More specifically though my response is, would the world be a better or worse place aesthetically speaking with artists like Richard Prince in it.
Who is Richard Prince you ask? Richard Prince is a world acclaimed artist who has built his art by remixing imagery from popular advertising campaigns. Yes, imagery which he does not hold copyright over. You can read more about the work of Prince over here at the New York Times in the article If the Copy Is an Artwork, Then What’s the Original? So what does Prince do? He takes photographs of photos by other photographers, blows them up huge like and without crediting any original photographer he produces and publishes his art. I say more power to him. Thanks by the way Ryan for the heads up on the Richard Prince article.
More to the point. Would the world be a better or a worse place off aesthetically speaking with the Beastles in it? Who are the Beastles? The Beastles are a band that a few years back did an incredible job remixing tracks from the Beatles and the Beastie Boys. The result is incredible — I’m glad I got the tracks off the internet when I did because good luck finding the tracks now. With songs like Whatcha Want, Lady?, Mother Nature’s Rump, and I Feel Fine Right Now, the Beastles brought a new cutting edge feel to the Beatles and in the process created some remarkable art.
It’s unfortunate that today when you go to their website to hear their fantastic remixes that you get the following message: “These mash-ups were made for fun, and as a demonstration of my remixing abilities. They are currently unavailable on this website.”
Check out the photo at the top of this post. It’s outstanding! It’s also a remix of one of my photos. Here’s the original. While I received credit as part of the remix I’m much more satisfied that the photograph above was produced. That something that I made inspired someone to make something even more creative than my original. In the same way that I was pleased to see that The Richter Scales used some of my imagery in their own attempt to exercise their own creativity.
Our time on this earth is too short to get petty and spend hours worrying about people who might steal our imagery. When my imagery is used as part of someone else’s creative process I don’t get jealous or proprietary, I get excited. I get excited that even beyond my own art I’ve contributed to even more art on this earth. While it’s always nice to be credited I’m not going to let this spoil the party if I don’t.
Certainly a “I’m taking my ball and going home,” sort of attitude where you limit the exposure of your photographs or watermark the hell out of everything is one approach. That’s not my approach though.
My friend Scott Richard painted one of my photographs. Check it out, it’s amazing. Here’s his painting and here’s my original. My friend Kathy Johnson painted another one of my photographs. The original is here. I love this stuff. I love that my stuff is used this way.
And I do actually think that the world is better off with Richard Prince and his amazing work in it than if he were to be shut down. To me, the internet ought to be about tearing down walls in the name of creativity, not erecting new ones. So if the Richter Scales or anyone else wants to use my photos as part of their own creative process, go for it. I won’t let this get in the way of my own creative process which is focused more on building large collections of photographs and in building a collection of 500,000 finished photographs before I die. I’ve only ever told one publication that they couldn’t use my photographs, and that’s Valleywag. I got tired of them making up lies and printing them and so I didn’t want to contribute to the crap that they spew anymore.
Certainly there are cases where clear, large and very full copyright violations take place that probably shouldn’t. But there are many, many other cases of limited and questionable minor infringement that should probably be let go.
If you put your stuff up on the internet at some point it may be used by others. My advice is to stop worrying about it and learn to love the bomb.