Exercise 2.4: Is appropriation appropriate?

Brief: Describe your response to artists and photographers who appropriate images taken by other people.

Appropriation [ mass noun ] the action of appropriating something: dishonest appropriation of property.• the deliberate reworking of images and styles from earlier, well-known works of art. the hallmark of postmodernism has turned out to be appropriation.

In the music world, whenever an artist records a 'cover version' of a song sung by someone else, it is often looked on favourably as part of the creative process. A different, fresh interpretation of a tune or lyrics that have been heard over again. Of course, unless you're a member of Marvin Gaye's estate, who won a court settlement against Bruno Marrs' 'Blurred lines', which contains lyrics from 'Got to give it up'. 

Technology has made it all too easy to capture and replicate 'works of art'. Many photographers go to great lengths to watermark or doctor their images to lower resolutions, so that they can't be used. However, with billions of images uploaded to the Internet everyday, there is a wealth of material just waiting to be appropriated.

We have images of everywhere at our finger tips.
— Alexander (2015, 108)

This leads me to question why do people share their images with a global community in the first place? What is their intention? Is it to gain a wider acceptance and advertisement of their skill and creativity? If so then surely appropriation could be considered to be appreciation. They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, so if someone deems another's work to be worthy of replicating, then surely that is acceptable. 

Following on from this, the act of 'taking' someone else's photograph could be considered as theft. After all, to take something that belonged to someone else is stealing. However, this would depend on your view of the Internet. To accuse someone of theft, would imply that they have taken it to a new 'place'. Conversely, if the photograph is uploaded to another website, then it could be considered to be in the same place (the Internet), but now it's in a different area of that place. It would be like moving a picture from one room in a house to another room. 

Furthermore, I've always associated breech of copyright with the use of images to illustrate another's work. It had never occurred to me that someone would use an image and blatantly pass it off as their own artwork. At this point I am wondering what my own reaction would be if one of my own images had been appropriated. I think that I would be very annoyed if I had not been asked for permission to use it. It's common courtesy to ask. When I have asked other photographers if I could use their images they have been more than willing to give permission. At the very least I would expect to be credited for an image that had been used without my permission.  

This personalisation of the image, whereby the photographer is known and has had a creative input into the image, would suggest that appropriation could only be appropriate if the photographer is aware of, and agrees to, their image being used. Mishka Henner, and Michael Wolf have been very open in their use of images from Google Street View. Those scenes have been automatically selected by an inanimate object. Does this make appropriating those images anymore acceptable? 

Michael Wolf's 'A series of unfortunate events' consist of images that are photographs of Google Street View. Does the fact that they are photos of the images make anymore acceptable than if the images were copied directly from the screen? Afterall we are all able to freely view them on any digital device. There is no fee to pay, so surely they are free to use, and mis-use. 

Overall, appropriation can be appropriate to appreciate others' work, as long as permission has been granted from the original owner.

So...I might be willing for others to use my photographs, but please ask first!

References

Alexander, J. A. P. (2015) Perspectives on Place: Theory and Practice in Landscape Photography. London: Bloomsbury Publishing

Sources

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/michael-wolf-a-series-of-unfortunate-events [Accessed 4.7.15]

http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/mishka-henner-3 [Accessed 4.7.15]