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Shooting art - fine line between documenting, stealing, and value added...

Discussion in 'Creative Corner' started by Ray Sachs, Jun 6, 2010.

  1. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    I'm not sure if this is the place to discuss this, but its something I've been thinking about some and it seems like as good a place as any - feel free to redirect if appropriate.

    I've seen a lot of photos of existing art, whether paintings, sculpture, graffiti, etc. Some of it is clearly just a document of the existing art - no real attempt to add anything. Some takes an interesting angle or approach and arguably adds some value to the original piece, but is still totally reliant on the piece for all of the content - this can work particularly well with sculpture but I've seen some graffiti shot like this that really works. Some incorporates the existing art into an overall scene and the success or failure of the original piece of art doesn't really have much to do with the success or failure of the photograph.

    Being a judgmental sort, I see these different approaches having different levels of "legitimacy", whether I should or not. A purely documentary shot is OK because that's all its trying to do. A shot that uses a fragment or a interesting angle on a piece of art I find somewhat suspect because there's relatively little added and the shots rely almost totally on the success or failure of the original piece for the beauty or lack thereof of the photograph. Shots that just incorporate a piece of art into a larger scene where the photograph lives or dies on its own value - regardless of how good or bad the original piece is - these to me are the best because the photograph has become its own art and whatever original artwork may be within it is just a PART of the photograph as a whole.

    I bring this up because of the following three shots. Two of them I found in my camera recently and the third I shot a while ago and these brought it to mind. I'm frankly not sure where they fit or how I feel about them and it got me thinking about this whole question. I know I like them on some level, but I don't entirely trust them, particularly the first two newer ones. The two new ones clearly have pieces of existing art as highly dominant parts of the photograph. Both add other elements to put the art work in context, so there's at least an attempt to add some value, but the artwork is really dominant and the shots wouldn't have worked if the orignal art didn't work to some extent. The third one has an important and somewhat dominant piece of art in it, but I trust it more because its a much smaller part of the overall scene and the juxtaposition is far more obvious and is more important to the shot than painting itself. Nonetheless, if the painting wasn't there, I don't think the photo would have worked nearly as well.

    So, what do you folks think? How do you approach this in your own shooting. Or am I the only idiot who thinks about this stuff and has trouble getting out of his own way? :cool: 

    Just as an aside, I sort of feel the same way about shots of flowers. There are a LOT of them that are just pictures of flowers - intrinsically beautiful things but the photographs rarely add much if anything to the beauty. But sometimes the photographer uses the flower in an image in a way that the image comes first and is definitely more than just a picture of something that was pretty to begin with. Some of LisaO's flower shots come to mind - there are others but her's consistently have this quality. I rarely even try to shoot pics of flowers - i just think I'd suck at it and I'm not a flower lover to begin with, soooo.....

    -Ray

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    Gallery.jpg
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    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/20889767@N05/4586679812/" title="Diner 055 by ramboorider1, on Flickr"> View attachment 145648 "1024" height="768" alt="Diner 055" /></a>
     
  2. Djarum

    Djarum Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Dec 15, 2009
    Huntsville, AL, USA
    Jason
    I love the last shot. The first one is nice, but the light is blown out. The reflection in the second one is too distraciting for my taste.

    Taking each example, I am unclear about what the first shot is about. There isn't enough of the picture in the frame to make me believe that it was the subject, but not enough context to think the art is just apart of the scene.

    The second shot I think clearly demonstrates where the art is the subject..I think. The reflections do add something, but to me, its distracting. I'm not sure if this was taken outside of an art gallery, but in my experiences, art galleries have good lighting and present an interesting mood to them. If this was shot inside, for example, I think the fine line is being threaded here..is it about the art or the scene(atmosphere) which includes the art. But being shot outside, I don't know what to make of it.

    In the last shot, which I feel is the best, the art is just apart of the scene, which adds to the scene, but its not necessarily the dominant part of the scene.

    Take these with a grain of salt, they are just my two pennies.

    In most cases, I don't think about the art if the art is apart of the scene. If I go to an art galler or museum, I ask first about taking photos. In an art gallery, the art is usually for sale, so the artist is looking for compensation for the property. In most cases, in a museum, the art holds some historical context, and its usually ok to post pictures. In some museums I've found, art that is for sale is held in a different room and has signs posted for no picture taking.

    I'm not sure if I answered your question..just rambling thoughts.
     
  3. MikeB10

    MikeB10 Mu-43 Regular

    Frankly I think all three photos are terrific shots on their on merit. If the photos were mere reproductions perhaps your concerns would be appropriate but to me these all communicate the unique vision of the photographer. Don't think a photo needs any more justification than that.:smile:
     
  4. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    Well, I guess if I have to explain 'em, they didn't work, but just to clarify, the gallery shot was taken from the street through a window. To me, the reflections were the only reason to take the shot. Without them, its just a picture of a gallery. With them, there's some juxtaposition between the highly refined and choreographed atmosphere within and the more chaotic, auto-oriented environment outside. The first one was taken in the same cafe as the third - a little place I go to a lot with that sort of fun pop-art all over the walls. I guess I was going for the same juxtaposition in both of these - the attempted glamour of the paintings against the daily grind of a diner. Much more to look at in the third one - in the first the only contrast is supplied by the ketchup, sugar, salt & pepper, etc. But I take your point - the art is most dominant in the first and by my own criteria discussed in the first post, that should make it the least successful.

    In any case, thanks for the comments. I hadn't really thought about the potential copyright issues - maybe the reflections in the second shot help keep that from being an issue? I'm more interested in what people think about the questions raised than about the specific images, but to the extent that they illustrate the questions, have at it!

    -Ray
     
  5. Grant

    Grant Mu-43 Veteran

    I once attended a workshop on photography and the law. One of the things I learned was that many laws are local and while you can make generalizations there are no hard fast set of constants. The Workshop covered so much and I know my rights in Nova Scotia but no where else. So if in doubt check with a lawyer.
     
  6. JoeG

    JoeG Mu-43 Regular

    I've no answers to offer but just to complicate matters, I'd be willing to bet that Shango (an artist appropriating the name of a Yoruba god?) based his images on photographs. Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's in the first instance, and Marilyn Monroe in the second. If so, those two photos show art showing art. The ethical dimensions multiply!
     
  7. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    Interesting - much of the discussion became about the copyright and legal issues, which is not what I was thinking about or asking about. But they're surely legit issues. I don't shoot for anything beyond my own entertainment and that of the friends and family who sometimes see my stuff, so I never really think about the copyright issues. I guess if I was trying to have my work shown publicly or professionally, I'd need to. And, yeah, in that context, I guess the borrowed or stolen nature of the Shango paintings in the photographs adds yet another level of irony to the discussion.

    I was really just thinking about the value of the photograph as art on its own terms. I mean its an inherently observational art to begin with - we don't make the reality in the photograph as much as capture it, hopefully from an interesting angle or perspective that adds something to it. When we rely on the beauty of someone else's art for the impact, is the photograph really more than a just a photocopy? Given that there are a zillion shades of gray between the black of just flat out copying a piece of art in a photograph and the white of incorporating a piece of art into a photograph that is an image on its own, whether the work of art IN the photograph is any good or not, I guess I'm wondering if there's an even remotely bright line in there that is best not crossed? Artistically, not legally. I suspect the answer is no, the line isn't bright at all - you just have to decide on a situation by situation basis. But its something I've thought some about and was interested in whether others had as well.

    -Ray
     
  8. Djarum

    Djarum Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Dec 15, 2009
    Huntsville, AL, USA
    Jason
    I suppose that my first reply confused things a bit.

    I thought you were asking about, when artwork is in pictures, how it relates to a scene and subject matter, and if the art is the subject or not.

    As far as whether or not its a "photocopy" if you will, that is completly dependant upon the actual photograph. I think in all three examples, the pictures are more than a photocopy. To play devil's advacate, though, the first shot seems the most like a photocopy because it is so dominant in the frame. The second shot not as much because the reflections are really dominant. The last one is merely part of the scene.

    I think it just depends on how the art impacts the scene that seperates a photocopy and a completly seperate piece of work.
     
  9. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    Not in the least - your response was directly on point! That was exactly what I was asking.

    -Ray
     
  10. Brian S

    Brian S Mu-43 Top Veteran

    714
    Apr 11, 2009
    None of the photos shown look like photocopies to me, they all include the environment that the artwork is in. i like the first one, hanging over the Diner table with the color of the ketchup bottle showing against the print. .

    This picture of mine is a "Photocopy", and was allowed in the Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia. M8 with a 1937 5cm f1.5 Sonnar made into LTM, wide-open

    [​IMG]

    Many museums allow photography, usually of prints bought with public funds. No caveots on displaying them.
     
  11. Mosca

    Mosca Mu-43 Regular

    103
    May 27, 2010
    When you make a photograph, you make a new thing, that stands or falls on its own merits. All the things you say might go into deciding what those merits are; for example, the angle on a piece of sculpture, like you mentioned, might not be very difficult to see and to capture, which might make that image attractive but common. Nevertheless, the photograph is unique and should be judged as so.
     
  12. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    Agreed, but only up to a point. For example, in Brian's above photo from the Civil War Naval Museum, I don't think he'd claim he's making a new thing - he's using a camera as a copying device to document an old thing. And has done a nice job of it, but that is somehow different than just incorporating a piece of art into a photo. In between what he's doing and creating an entirely new piece of art that may just incorporate an existing piece, there are all sorts of shades of gray. I guess what I'm trying to avoid, and I rarely think I succeed, is using the quality of the art in the photograph as a crutch for the photo - relying on the quality of the art depicted for the quality of the photo rather than creating something fully new that stands on its own merits. I think the third photo in my introductory series does that reasonably well because there's so much going on beyond the piece of art depicted in the photo. The other two I like well enough but they make me uneasy in that regard...

    -Ray
     
  13. Brian S

    Brian S Mu-43 Top Veteran

    714
    Apr 11, 2009
    The first and last images by the OP -at least to me- are "Iconic Art". What makes the photographs so original -at least in my opinion- is finding the well-known art in the small diner, cafe, common everyday setting. Along with a bottle of Ketchup or fast-order kitchen. It's art, about art, and shows who appreciates the art.

    I like it.

    Now- my Photo of the Civil War Naval Battle, could be entittled "Moderator on an Internet Forum".
     
  14. Mosca

    Mosca Mu-43 Regular

    103
    May 27, 2010
    I'd say a fuzzier line gets drawn when someone blatantly copies another's work, such as was discussed by Mike Johnston (a fan of m4/3) at The Online Photographer here. A brief summary in photographs; 1 is Sze Tsung Long from 2007, 2 is David Burdeny, from 2009. Johnston summarizes, "This is yet another way in which photography is different than art, and why applying the same ways of thinking to both, interchangeably, is not quite a fit." It's worth a read, along with the scores of thoughtful comments.
     

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  15. landshark

    landshark Mu-43 Veteran

    307
    Apr 27, 2010
    SO CAL
    Usage is very important in how the image is legally and ethically seen, for personal use along as you do not trespass or break any copyright laws you are pretty much in the clear.

    Artistically as long as you bring your own personal view point to the subject, altering or adding to the original, then all images you are you artistic vision
     
  16. Djarum

    Djarum Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Dec 15, 2009
    Huntsville, AL, USA
    Jason
    I think this is a little different though. Whe two images are captured of the same subject and are very similar, its really tough to decide on whether or not copyright infringement occured.

    In general, motifs are always copied. Heck, check out my photographs of the waterfalls. Many images have been taken there and even some published. Of course all are going to be slightly different based on physical differences, but there are only a few good vantage points to take the pictures from. I'm sure I stepped in someone's tripod hole, and I am sure someone will come along and step in mine.
     
  17. Mosca

    Mosca Mu-43 Regular

    103
    May 27, 2010
    Djarum, the copying in this case was done intentionally. That makes a difference, IMO. And both photographers are professionals.

    In the case of the photograph of the artwork, Brian might be documenting an existing work, but he still created a new thing. Its value is proportional to its originality and ease of reproduction, but it is still a new thing; a photograph of an original.

    In my opinion, all three of the images posted by Ray S. are legitimately original ideas. I like them all.
     
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