Week 2: Appropriation, Remixing & Mediation

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

This week we were discussing appropriation, remixing and mediation, (not just) in photography practice. There were two activities to complete.

The first activity: Was to read and article ‘Joywar’ and respond to it in terms of how we would deal with appropriation of our work (apart from possible legal actions).

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 (a photographer whose work Garnett appropriated). 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'.

Susan Meiselas (http://www.susanmeiselas.com/) (1979) The Molotov Man Joy Garnett (https://joygarnett.net/) (2003) Molotov from the series Riot In a nutshell:

For the Riot series Garnett used (as a base for her painting) Meiselas’s photograph of a man with a Molotov cocktail available on the internet. She saved the most promising images in folders, and I let them sit for a while to forget where she found them. She wanted her choices to be based more on aesthetic criteria than on her emotional attachment to their narratives.

Without any awareness of who is the author of the photograph, Garnett exhibited the Riot series including the Molotov Man. Neither she asked the photographer for a permission nor gave her a credit using her as a reference.

Leaving out not seeking for a permission, Susan Meiselas was unhappy with such appropriation because it decontextualized her photograph.

She took the picture in Nicaragua, which had been ruled by the Somoza family since before World War II. The Sandinistas, had opposed that regime. The Molotov Man is a photograph of Pablo Arauz throwing his bomb at a Somoza national guard garrison. It was an important moment in the history of Nicaragua-the Sandinistas would soon take power and hold that power for another decade-and this image ended up representing that moment for a long time to come. What was happening was anything but a "riot."

The article can be found here:

https://zscalarts.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/on-the-rights-of-molotov-man-susan-joy.pdf This was my response:

However, one of my peers had a good point saying I should also consider my subjects and whether they mind the appropriation, and how I would deal with a scenario when I’m okay with the use of the photograph, but my subject is not.

This article has also opened again a touchy subject about the lack of control we have over our own work once it has been uploaded online (something we have discussed already in the previous module).

One of my peers put this:

Whilst I would admit that once images are made available in the public domain, there is very little anyone can do to police the appropriation of them. Unless of course you are linked to a large establishment such as Magnum. However I do find myself siding with Meiselas, in this case because of the context of the image. It would have been clear to Garnett that the image of the ‘Molotov Man’ had been taken with the context of violent turmoil and any use of it would be to alter the context. A lot of my peers also mentioned context and credit as crucial factors of whether the appropriation is acceptable or not.

In my humble opinion, if you use someone else as an inspiration, you should mention it. Maybe ask for the author's authorization if the use you intend to make of the work is drastically altering the initial context/message. But at the same time, the basis of art is to create something else out of "something" and to present it through one's artistic eyes. I would certainly incorporate the principle of "Do not Harm". Respect for others and their work is extremely important. And of course, I would make sure my own work is copyright-protected.

.. If in most cases the reuse was in good faith and either not for profit or for very small sums then it would be heavy-handed and perhaps egotistical of the original ‘owner’ to resort to lawyers.. .. So I think the moral here is to stay relaxed and copacetic. Respect the work of other artists and accept that remixing is part of so much artistic creation..

Another aspect which needs to be considered in case of turning to law is whether it is a battle worth fighting in terms of costs.

Before I decide whether to proceed to pursue through legal means, I need to calculate the cost and returns. I am not going to spend SGD20,000 for legal fees in return for SGD5000 in damages. Should the benefits derived from Social Media results in better returns compared to returns from a lawsuit victory, I will choose the Social Media.

This is also an interesting view of one of my peers:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” Oscar Wilde..

.. I would see the reworking or copying as an opportunity, why have they chosen my work? How have they used it? And can I work with them to create more work in a collaboration? I would like to see an output from the work for myself, maybe a reworking of the reworking..

A couple of questions has been raised through this article; aren’t all forms of artwork a remix of something that had been already created in the past? Is it even possible to have a unique/original idea?

In my opinion everything is a remix in a way, even if unintentionally. History of art is almost as old as human kind themselves. It has always been innate for humans to express themselves and their visions or simply capture what surrounds them. There had been billions of artwork created since then until today. Now there are 7 billion people on the planet and creating art is more accessible to everybody. But also seeing (or bumping into) art is easier – through internet, social media, advertisement, etc. We basically encounter art every day through many contexts perhaps without taking a significant note of it. But deep down in the subconscious mind the information is stored. Considering these facts I would say it is impossible to create something that is ultimately your idea uninfluenced by others. I believe that there is nothing like ‘pure originality’, all kinds of ideas root to something that already had been made, perhaps without us being even aware of it.

The second activity: Was to appropriate/remix image content to repurpose our images. I approached this task with a bit of humour and decided to recreate my own work:

In terms of other people’s work, I find really cool the one about Cornish landscape. The author of this work remixed his own photographs with typical images of Cornwall he had found on the internet.

..I thought this would be an interesting notion to use this type of image and add a layer of depth to the image. Revealing a glimpse of real life (through a glitched Cornish Flag) behind the tourism using my own imagery barely visible but there, overlooked. I thought this would offer the viewer a beautiful scene but looking closer would reveal another narrative..

Another great idea was a photograph of the author as a baby surrounding by his brothers. The alteration of the image lies in blurring the brothers’ faces.

.. My brothers around me are like strangers to me. They were all much older, and consequently, I have never had a close relationship with them.. .. I wanted their form to remain, but like my memories, they have become indistinct.

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