Sam Abell’s Cowboy Photo For Sale Again *not by Sam

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Jen Bekman is selling the Sam Abell cowboy picture, that was originally shot for Marlboro cigarette advertisements, as part of her 20 x 200 project (here).  Compared to the prices Richard Prince’s prints fetch (millions) these seem quite reasonable at $20 for the small and $1000 for the large. And, hey none of these snobby art world small editions either, there’s 730 total available in all the different sizes. Incidentally the photographer/artist on this run is Greg Allen. He’s got a post up (here) explaining his actions where he states:

I have no claim on the image, or the idea, or the technical skill of making them, and yet I feel incredibly proud of these prints, which are these beautiful, physical things.

Of course I’m writing this all tongue-in-cheek because it seems sort of absurd and dangerous for someone who sells photography for a living (Jen) to endorse printing and selling jpg’s you found on the internet (say, the 20×200 website). Then again I’ve heard a few photographers comment that they’d like to get back at Prince by reselling what he’s selling. So, there you have it.

Picture 1

Here’s Sam talking about Richard Prince from a PDN interview:

There Are 78 Comments On This Article.

  1. john mcd.

    I admire Sam’s ability to look at this in the detached and analytical way he has. It seems as if he prefers to stay above the squalid level of the other parties to this affair. I’d sue their asses off and try to shame them(is that possible) into some kind of acknowledgement that Prince hasn’t created anything at all, he just plagiarized someone else’s work.

  2. This Richard Prince shit makes my head hurt. I can see the value in the statement the first time he did it, but after doing it once, it’s done… Like telling the same joke to the same group of people over and over again.

  3. Chuck De Luck

    Hey, I just copied the picture off this post and am selling them for a buck each!

  4. I give UP!!!!

    I mean, really! I don’t understand the art world and the arrogance of some so-called photography critics. I mean, how the hell does one become rich and famous for copying and selling someone else’s work?

    And, as a photographer, why the hell would you invest so much time and energy in imitating a photo? We’re all influenced by other’s work, but a meticulous copy? PLEASE!!!!

    I just don’t get it.

    • Johnny Photo

      @Tim, Richard Prince’s is not a meticulous copy, but a Photograph of a Photograph. Art is not the techical skill, but the act of mind. You can also look on Sherrie Levine.

  5. F-ing hilarious to listen to Abell talk about the ‘life’ of the photo and think that the product being advertised is a particular brand of cigarette.
    You seem outraged by the plagiarism but oblivious to the fact that Abell made money from promoting a poisonous product.

    Perhaps that’s part of Princes motivation: to steal and profit from an image that is so rotten in the first place.

    • @J,

      Sam created the photograph. It’s creation belongs to him. The fact he choose to sell that image to promote a poisonous product rests on his moral judgment, and his alone, because he created the image.

      Stealing his image doesn’t take any sort of ownership back over that original image. It’s just foolish.

      I love getting into conversations with ‘fine arts’ photographers about why advertising images aren’t valid works of photographic art.

      Just because an image was created to sell a product or service doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold artistic value. Some of the most amazing images I’ve ever seen were created to sell something. Their beauty is not negated by this fact.

      The best part about advertising imagery is that if you have half a brain at all you can see through whatever is trying to be sold to you and decide for yourself if it is something you care about – or if the image has merit beyond what it is selling. Advertising works best on those who don’t think.

      And I don’t care who you are – we all have to make a living, which more often than not requires you to sell something.

      Even fine arts photographers need to sell in order to live. I guess the really good ones are able to sell other photographers images to really dumb rich people.

    • @J,

      So, I’m guessing you don’t make any money off photography. Just a shot in the dark.

      • @Cletus,

        Woops! shot in the dark misses.

        And the idea that one needs to make money from photography to have an opinion on whether or not an image is rotten or not is absurd.

  6. Jen Beckman is the biggest joke in the photo world. Her whole business is built on the backs of starry eyed shooters hoping for fine arts stardom. She needs to get a life and learn how to create something on her own. Just because you make a lot of noise doesn’t mean you know anything about what you are yelling about.

    Sam’s comments in this video are perfect. The best part of this is that one day people like Jen, Richard Prince, & Greg are going to realize that during a good part of, if not, their whole life – they never actually originated anything on their own.

    And I certainly can’t imagine what it would feel like to face death knowing you faked your way through life.

      • @phil,

        Haha… I know a lot of people like Andy Warhol, but I think he is a much different case than Jen Beckman. And personally I think his work is basically full of shit as well.

  7. Like Sam Abell, I also look forward to an answer from the art world. I don’t expect to hear nor read one, and I cannot imagine any reasonable response. That anyone would copy an image, no matter how technically simple, and then not give back to the original creator of that image, is the act of a coward.

    • @Victor John Penner,

      This hack that butchered these photos is a real tool.

      Awful and tasteless. Not to mention disrespectful to Ms. Arbus and her subjects.

  8. Mr. Abel is a much more gracious man than I. Is there nothing in copyright law that prohibits such obvious plagiarism of visual arts? Authors and song writers can not get away with such obvious acts. Not even close.

    I do hope that justice is served. But by the sounds of the interview, he probably won’t sue. Which is the only way that is will be resolved, and have a precedent set for other visual plagiarism.

  9. The amazing thing about this is for the plagiarizing artists their notoriety is concerned solely with the construction of imagery and as a result the recognition is a flash in the pan compared to the legacy of (original) work completed by Mr. Abell.

    By the way, if any collector’s do wish to support the original artist, Sam Abell and with Torben Ulrik Nissen opened a show yesterday, in Charlottesville Virginia. The series consists of recent (original) work photographed in the Amazon:

    … A bit easier than making an even crappier copy of Allen’s ripoff of Prince, selling it, and give all the money to Abell.

  10. Is Sam ‘gracious’ or displaying a certain kind of rhetoric? I am supposing NGS has the copyright (before the digital age I believe NGS held the copyright i.e. the norm for staffers in general is/was that the publication has a work for hire arrangement. So Sam has no power over these current circumstances of usage if I am correct.
    If he has ever felt annoyed that he cannot reap the rewards of secondary usage (presumably the bucks go to NGS) then perhaps he is laughing that NGS is getting screwed. I believe Sam has been happy with his association with NGS but the cold hard copyright issues are what they are, aren’t they? When digital came, some of the NGS photogs dealt with reuse and royalty issues. How that was finally handled, more knowledgable people than I may answer that.
    So Sam may be laughing, not that he got ripped off but that NGS did.

    • Dan Westergren

      @Vivian Ronay, Why would NGS have anything to do with Sam’s photos made for Marlboro? They don’t.

  11. I find Richard Prince’s Cowboy artwork better than Sam Abell’s photo. And no, I’m not being funny.

  12. I’m wondering how many photographers, artists, or other creatives are able to retain the rights to the cultural influence of their work on our societies?

    When the ADs & CDs @ Leo Burnett created ‘The Marlboro Man’ this influenced and has become a part of worldwide culture. As do the images which photographers created for Marlboro.

    If Sam Abell, William Bennett (another photographer that created images for Marlboro) benefit from this cultural influence will anyone shake a finger?
    If Jay Leno, the NYTs, a sitcom, a feature film, or another ad agency in say Tokyo do a spin on this meme who will whine?

    I’m less attracted to the latest appropriation by Greg Allen. But Richard Prince’s use of appropriation makes a significant cultural comment imo. I question whether he could have made the same (strong) commentary without such a direct appropriation. For that I agree with Sam Abell’s comment about the manner of his use being cheeky.

    It is common to see “photographers” get caught up in the surface appearance of their images, but not understanding or perceiving the broader communication the images represent.

    With regard to “retaining rights” imagine a world in which everything: people, places, things – all retained implicit rights of representation. In this world nothing could be photographed, commented upon, or represented by another without explicit written permission.

    Richard Prince’s art is a commentary on our culture. He appropriates images to succinctly create this communication. Context is important. Like in the Marlboro ad (where Marlboro banks billions of $), Sam Abell’s gets some representation from Prince’s use as well.

          • @Victor John Penner,

            Victor, I believe the approach I’ve taken IS the better one. It allows the reader (Victor) to do their own research and come to their own conclusions. I realize that isn’t as easy as having it spoon feed. But what difference does it make. You will have your own opinion and reach your own conclusions. It’s hard (impossible) to argue against another’s opinion.

            Prince’s work is hardly new. It was created 20+ – 30 years ago. Had it not been hugely successful and valued we most likely would not have our own commentary on his work.

            What is your purpose in asking this question of me?

            • @Bob, You said that you had an opinion on Prince’s “commentary” and I asked if you would share it, your smart ass google link just shows that your opinion is probably not worth sharing. I have met Prince, seen his work, am friends with owners of his work and I do have MY opinion on his work, and I certainly don’t want an anonymous etard “spoon feeding” me anything

              • @Victor John Penner,

                “You said that you had an opinion on Prince’s “commentary” ”
                Did I?

                ” I asked if you would share it”
                No, you said, “And what comment would that be?”
                “Tell us what his commentary on our culture is.”

                This is different than asking *my* opinion. I provided you with a basis to research this work, and access to commentary on why this work is considered important. Why you would need this prompt when it is so commonly available is beyond me.

                I also asked you, “What is your purpose in asking this question of me?”
                Which you have not answered.

                Why the need to call names?
                What difference does it make if I decide to post anonymously? (That is my choice). Does knowing my identity change reality or make my comments any more or less acceptable?

                Does “having met Prince, seen his work, and being friends with owners of his work” make your opinion any better than another?

                Look Victor, it’s pretty obvious you are looking for an argument. I may be mistaken, but it seems you need to impress your opinion and beliefs on others that may not share the same. What’s the point? Why would I wish to be trolled into such a situation.

                Your opinion may have no bearing for me. I am capable of my own thoughts.
                btw – My first viewing of Prince’s art (and other appropriators) was in the mid 1980’s on the lower east side of NYC. Ten years later in Soho and possible at Gagosian’s gallery as well as museums. But I won’t suggest this provides any more ability to understand the context and use of appropriated imagery over someone that has not seen the work in person.

    • @Bob,

      Opps. My err. William *Thompson* is one of the other “Marlboro” photographers.

    • @Bob,

      “It is common to see “photographers” get caught up in the surface appearance of their images, but not understanding or perceiving the broader communication the images represent.”

      Exactly. Most photographers just don’t seem to get this kind of art. Whether one thinks Prince’s artwork is good or bad, anyone who believes the success of it relies solely on the original being a pretty picture just doesn’t get it.

      Besides, Prince’s work is not plagiarism. Plagiarism is stealing something AND passing it off as your own original work. Prince is definitely stealing something but he makes no secret about the fact that he stole it.

      • @m,

        I’d go so as to say it is no more stealing than Sam Abell, Marlboro, or Leo Burnett stealing the identity of the cowboy.

        Prince has re-contextualized the image (added/changed/transformed) the meaning of the original art.

          • @Gordon Moat,

            Which original images?
            The NG images or the images for Marlboro?

            I’m curious why you asked how Sam Abell was compensated and not the cowboy(s).

            What about compensation to Leo Burnett and Marlboro?
            Was Abell’s cowboy imagery the only one appropriated?

            William Thompson told me that he no longer owned the copyright to the cowboy images he created for Marlboro. They were done for a very high price in a work for hire agreement.

            Your question opens the door to questions of cultural commodification. How have the consumers of this advertising been compensated? How has the culture of the cowboy been compensated?

              • @Gordon Moat, I did answer your question Gordon. I ask you to clarify the question, and posed more context to the inquiry. I suspect neither of us has specific details on any of these considerations.

                As far as posting anonymously, that is my choice. If the information I post or questions I ask are valid (or not) does it matter what name is used?

                • @Bob, It is not simply you Bob, but everyone who posts here anonymously. When you are unwilling, or afraid, to place your name with your words, then your words have no value.

                  As for compensating consumers of advertising, one of your questions, I think the closest comparison to that was the settlements with the tobacco industry. Perhaps you think other companies should be sued for too fatty foods, too fast cars, or after shaves that don’t really attract women.

                  • @Gordon Moat,
                    Your point about words having no value when they’re posted anonymously is utterly ridiculous. Not everyone wants all the conversations he/she has on the internet to be made public just like one wouldn’t want every conversation in real life to be made public. His argument is no less valid because he doesn’t post his name and yours is no more valid because you have some name attached to it.

                    • @m, That’s hilarious! If you would not state something in public, yet you would state it on-line while hiding behind a pseudonym, then you are a coward.

                      Richard Prince did not pay Sam Abell, yet you and Bob here seem to think that is okay, because Prince “contributed to culture”. That too is fucking hilarious, but not in a good way.

                    • @Gordon Moat,
                      There’s a difference between stating something in public and something that one states being on public record in the internet. Not everyone feels as comfortable as you disclosing personal information on the internet. Not everyone is happy with having a bunch of blog comments turning up in the search results whenever someone googles their name.

                      Anonymity is a cowardly thing when you attack someone on a personal level or when you pretend to have any authority on a subject but as long as we’re just having a discussion and putting forth arguments it’s pretty irrelevant whether or not someone discloses their name.

            • @Bob, Your question: “I’m curious why you asked how Sam Abell was compensated and not the cowboy(s).”

              My answer: The Richard Prince “Untitled” (Cowboy) image was the first to fetch more than $1million at a Christie’s auction. Neither Prince nor Christie’s compensated Sam Abell.

              Why do you seem to think that is okay? Christie’s is just as much corporate as tobacco companies, even if what they do is not subject to FDA regulations. I do not smoke, but I have no problem if other people decide they want to consume cigarettes. If your argument is based upon some higher moral ground, then you are addressing a separate issue; one or more wrongs never make a right.

              • @Gordon Moat,

                Ay Yi Yi!!! What a mess. This format is such a poor method to have a cogent conversation. (No doubt why some of us prefer to remain “anon” online).

                Thank you, “M”. Had you not posted the response on the value of information (regardless of poster ID) I would have posted a similar response. I will add, these interactions are often incredibly subjective. The subjectivity nullifies any need for a true identity. For example, on this thread about R. Prince. There is obviously the identity of Prince, his dealers, museum curators, art critics, collectors, etc. All these identities are confirmed, qualified, established. Countless articles easily sourced. Yet many here still fall back to a subjective view point. What more would the identity of a poster here provide to the understanding of this art, that can not be ascertained by those in those (previously listed) in this industry?

                Let’s say a poster makes a statement that bothers someone here, and the (original) poster provides a first and last name. “John Adams”. Of course it will be googled (6,210,000 results). Then what? Do you respond to the poster asking “which John Adams? What have you done? Do you have a website? Can you show us your photography?” Virtually any response this poster provides will most likely be processed through a current subjectivity.

                I’ll be blunt. You’ve most likely already formed an opinion. Your opinion is inflexible. You either don’t have enough information to understand the scenario, or are not capable of processing that information to understand the situation. Asking for an identity or qualification is more information which could be used as a sort of crutch or qualifier for that which you don’t know. But the identity will most likely just be used to subjectively dismiss – as is done with those identities listed above. Bottom line, if a poster does not want to share their identity that is their choice – not yours!

                I don’t believe I have taken a personal position on either side of this chasm. I’ve provided thoughts, questions, opinions on how to see other PsOV. It is what it IS!

                Gordon, your point about the tobacco lawsuits stops short of seeing the full picture of how media influences culture. Yes there is the tangible relationship between the individual persuaded to use a product. But the influence doesn’t necessarily stop there.

                Sam Abell (I’ll assume) was paid by his clients (Marlboro, National Geographic).
                Not only did Prince or Christies (I presume) not compensate Abell. But neither did the original or new owner of the art. Did Abell compensate Prince for all the elite worldwide attention (“notoriety”) Abell received for his photography? If that image was worth so much why doesn’t Abell auction off a copy for 6-7+ figures? He has the world’s attention. If the money is so important (and I’ll assume it is if he was shooting tobacco ads) why doesn’t he sell his (*original*) copies for those prices or more? Why does Abell even need Prince? If those images are so valuable why didn’t Abell go worldwide with them before Prince?

                Did Leo Burnett or the CDs/Ads working on these ads get anything back?
                Did Marlboro get anything out of Richard Prince’s art?
                How much did Marlboro and Leo Burnett make on this advertising relative to Abell?

                Another question in my mind. How many of the cowboy images which Prince appropriated were originally shot by Abell?
                Were any of the other photographers images which Marlboro (Leo Burnett) used appropriated? Did Abell own the copyright on the images or was that transfered to Marlboro, (as it was with at least one other photographer)?

                btw – Look at the difference in net income between the tobacco industry and Christies (prime years). The scale is not one of parity. Have you looked at the budgets for tobacco advertising?
                How much of that did the photographers get?
                The models?
                The (co-opted) cowboy culture?
                The public that lived within this consumer culture.

                Maybe you’d like to leave the money out of it and discuss principle?
                How much did Abell or many editorial photographers pay their subjects? The photographers, publishers, and advertisers all make a living and profit based on this content. What did the cowboys get?

                When editorial magazines & ads focus on a particular culture it is often co-opted it into a ‘Commodity Aesthetic’ what do those members of the culture receive in exchange for the use and change of their culture? Who or what is “Marlboro Man”? Who owns it? Who created it? What does it represent? Can you answer “Sam Abell” to all these questions?

                Feature films and news sometimes focus on cultures and places. These cultures and places are often mobbed by people which transform and sometimes wipe out the pre-existing status. These are businesses (news/films) using people and places to create content to make money and notoriety for their own interests. What do the majority of the people featured receive in exchange?

                This is not a simple issue. Before you get upset about what might be inappropriate behavior, I suggest you look at the broader picture. Including context.

                • @Bob, I don’t ask questions of you to sway your opinion, I ask to try to understand your opinion. Yet all you do is reply with more questions and avoid answering. Why is that?

                  Instead you go off on society at large in what you seem to imply that corporations are ripping off people left and right, with the ones that made the most profit being the worst. Somehow it seems that you use that argument to justify the actions of Richard Prince and others who “appropriate” images. Sure, Prince could have appropriated someone other than Abell, but just like we saw recently with Shepard Fairey, there was a deliberate choice of that image, and other images in further works. Of course I suppose you agree with the actions of Fairey too.

                  Victor John Penner above is a big name in the industry, and well respected, and he decided to post his opinion with his name. His is also an opinion with which I agree.

                  I work in advertising and also do corporate images, so I know quite well how media influences cultures. I also was the co-top graduate at the the School of Fine Arts at SDSU when I graduated in 1998, so I have a formal art education and background, and I have read about Prince, Koons, and many others years ago. I have exhibited oil paintings and photography, and even managed to get one work into a museum a couple years ago, but I am far from being known or famous. If I have formed an opinion, it has come from my background and education. I still want to know your opinion, but that does not mean I would blindly agree with it.

                  • @Gordon Moat, After reading your responses it is obvious your opinion is more important than understanding anything else. You assign values and judgments that may not exist and certainly have not been indicated by others. It seems pointless to put any more time into this dialog.

                    What is more important to me than an opinion (mine or others) is understanding media, culture, human behavior. An inquiry (“questions”) serves this understanding better than a rigid opinion.

                    • @Bob, It’s okay Bob, since you don’t seem to certain about things anyway. I still like you, and respect your inquiry. Good luck to you in the upper echelons of fine art.

        • @Bob,
          I actually used the word stealing because Richard Prince uses it itself. Of course, technically it’s “appropriation” not stealing :)

          But I really don’t get the whole outrage about Prince’s work. It’s not like he’s this kind of art is that uncommon. Roy Lichtensteins comic paintings are magnified snippets of comic strips, Thomas Ruff’s Jpegs are magnifications of small image files found on the internet, Larry Sultan’s “Evidence” is a collection of police pictures. While these works of art differ to a certain extent it’s all work that is based on something the artist hasn’t done himself. What’s the big deal?

          And who says that cropping and magnifying is less of a creative effort than taking a picture? Photographers capture snippets of what they see and make them into pictures. So did Prince. He took snippets of what he saw in magazines and made them into pictures.

          • @m, I would have less of a problem with these “artists” if they actually gave back to the sources they “appropriated”, though the fact is they pocket the cash and the notoriety. They are no better than thieves in this regard. If they put this out into the world as social commentary, or editorial, with little to no compensation, then I might feel differently.

            • @Gordon Moat,
              There’s both a legal and a moral concern regarding this kind of appropriation art and we shouldn’t confuse the two. I won’t comment on the legal aspect as I’m not a lawyer.

              I don’t generally don’t have a problem with the notion that the photographer of the original work should be compensated. What I have a problem with is this notion that the photographer is the ‘real’ artist behind the work and that Prince is just a seller of stolen goods. It’s the notion that the people who pay loads of money for this do so because they like the photographer made a good picture. I think this is clearly not the case. What makes Prince’s cowboy pictures art is primarily the conceptual aspect of them not the visual (though they’re not mutually exclusive).
              Abell’s photograph, being the lifestyle picture that it is, can be interpreted as being about real men who are free from society’s restrictions. They smoke because they want to and don’t let anyone tell them otherwise. Whichever way you want to put it, Abell’s picture, in its original context, is trying to sell cigarettes.
              Whichever way one wants to interpret Price’s work, it surely isn’t trying to sell cigarettes. One could interpret it as being about male identity, about the construction of ‘nature’ and ‘nativeness’ in advertising, about decontextualisation etc. etc. I’m really just writing off the top of my head.

              As for whether or not the photographer should get any money, I say maybe but if so not much. Prince’s work sells for as much as it does because of his contribution to it not because of that of the photographer. Back when Prince started doing this kind of work nobody cared because he wasn’t famous and now that he’s successful everyone wants a piece of the pie. Besides, I think Prince not paying for the use of the pictures is pretty consistent with his art. The consumer usually neither knows nor cares who the photographer behind an advertising campaign is so why should Prince. It’s completely irrelevant to his work. And let’s not forget that his work is probably not meant to be commending the photographer on his fine imagery. It’s a highly critical kind of work and paying the photographer would be akin to congratulating Marlboro for making such an iconic campaign.

              Is it illegal? Maybe. But is graffiti on a train. Sometimes the illegal aspect is part oof the work.

          • @m,

            Of course. Artists make use of our world and culture to develop an understanding. The art is often the by product of that understanding.

            There was also Warhol, Robert Longo, Mark Kostabi, Sherrie Levine, Cindy Sherman, Gretchen Bender, Barbara Kruger…. etc.
            Some of these artists did not create their own work. At best they acted as art directors.

            I wouldn’t be surprised if Prince uses the term “steal” to help generate some hype. Remember he’s cheeky :)

            Media as a genre has become a self referential loop. It comments on itself. This has become part of the business model. When artists appropriate media they are co-opting that media. Giving it a new context and meaning. In the case of Sam Abell’s cowboy images, Leo Burnett appropriated the meaning of the images too (the cowboy identity) and recontextualized the meaning of the images to sell tobacco. The byproduct of these (and other) advertising being the simulation and manufacture of culture, mythology and a mindspace (mental environment). Prince took that context and disrobed it. The “Marlboro Man” never belonged to Abell. It didn’t belong to the cowboy culture either. Now (for some) it may not belong to Marlboro anymore.

  13. Sam Abell agan shows the class that we should all strive for as photographers and individuals.
    A passionate and skilled journalist who has dedicated his career to the communicative power of photographs.

    What legacy will the others leave?

  14. Those who can do, those who can’t teach and those who lack the talent and skill to do either create a craptastic gallery and website where they promote plagiarisms of plagiarisms. Either that or they call themselves Richard Price. I have no respect for any museum that shows his work. Sheep.

  15. Bekman and Allen are both full of it, and it has nothing to do with their art world status, but it does have to do with their compliance in the gallery scene hype machine.

    Bekman and her hired hands continue to proffer what is trend-driven, and they do sell a hell of a lot of prints. To read the amped-up cheerleading prose in their e-mails, it’s astounding that so many sheepish folks happily hand over their cash to own a “real piece of art”.

    Mind you, I am not against artists.

    In the words of Allen, on his blog:
    “But as soon as we saw the proofs come in in various sizes, with the pixels rendered in velvety, matte inkjet pigments on that heavy paper, it was obvious that this piece really needed to be published, and it needed to be done by 20×200.

    Puh-lease, Allen, would you give me a break? Would you remain as enthusiastic if someone stole your art and then fawned on about the pigments? His sense of detachment from all of this while he fills his
    pockets with money is a ridiculous statement in itself.

    As to Abell, I have met him, and he is a true artist, who happens to also shoot commercially. As to his attitude about this whole incident, his approach is gracious and zen-like, but this video clearly reveals that Abell is shrewd, and expresses his cutting words and anger in a stately fashion. I have nothing against this. Like most of us, Abell needs to preserve his image and his established business relationships.

  16. William Thompson

    I noticed my name in the earlier dialogs…. Hmmm. Yes, for 18 years I shot the Marlboro man. Of course, there exists all the issues defined in these dialogs and others as well. There are deep ethical issues with cigarettes. There are ethics issues with almost every product that is photographed to some extent or another. I understand these issues – always have – and can live with my choices.

    The fact is that I made some extraordinary art during all those years. Just as Sam Abel had done. And Sam, an old colleague from my own 10 years at the Geographic is thoughtful and gracious in his comments. I too have discovered that my images have been used by Prince yet the fact is that neither Sam nor I own the rights to the images we made of this American icon. There is nothing we can do about this usage other than muse about the nature of an art world that reifies and spends outrageous quantities of money to purchase copies of someone else’s talent and sense of moment.

    I have to laugh, and yet occasionally when confronted by this fact find myself musing about a guy that has found a home in the belief that he is an artist. Surely not in my definition, but then what do I know. Perhaps, in his view – and possibly the wider art community – anyone with a scanner and a copy machine is a creative spirit. I see no “art” here, just plain old plagiarism. I should point out that some extraordinary photographers have worked on this campaign through its many years and have created amazing imagery. To see some goofball like Prince, copy machine in hand, simply replicate and sell images that he couldn’t create on his own… well… the answer is obvious. One only has to look at samples of Prince’s own photography to realize that a monkey with a camera could make more interesting images. Where is the artist in all of this; where is the vision that truly wonderful photographers such as Sam Abel have spent a lifetime refining.

    The ethics of cigarettes aside (and it is an important dialog for sure), the idea that making copies, literal copies, exact copies is art… please… this is the ultimate reflection of the vacuous thinking permeating the art world today. Someone mentioned Andy Warhol. No he did NOT copy, he took symbols and converted and added and CREATED an entirely new image, a new idea.

    Price, in my view, whether he copied my images or not, is inventively poverty stricken… but he surely is a sad albeit very capable bellweather for the thinking in today’s art consciousness.

    • @William Thompson,
      So Andy Warhol’s Brillo box is not an exact copy of a regular Brillo box? (Sure, it’s myde of plywood but that’s irrelevant as it looks exactly the same)

      Besides, Prince does actually alter the images. He rephotographs them, crops them, enlarges them and apparently in some instances even blurs parts of it (btw, I’m plagiarising this site here: He does not take And most of all he surely does “create a new idea” to take your words. And who says editing is not a creative process?

      With all due respect, I think your post pretty much exemplifies what I mean when I say that many photographers just don’t seem to get it. It is completely beside the point whether or not he could’ve done it himself. It’s not like he was trying to take pretty pictures of cowboys over and over again and when he failed he just copied your work.
      Simply put, he’s an artist but he’s not a photographer.

      Of course it matters that you and others have created amazing imagery for this campaign. It matters insofar as it has helped create the myth of the Marlboro man. Prince copies your work in order to cite that myth.

      It seems like you put aside all ethical matters regarding advertising, cigarettes, the construction of male identity, etc. etc. and just see the pretty pictures. That is exactly where your work differs from his. His work is art that addresses these issues, your work is lifestyle photography.

      • @m,
        Your comment about the work of Abell and Thompson being “lifestyle” photography is a sad and reductive look at the imagery. These photos may have been birthed as symbols for commercial monoliths, but their value and aesthetics still hold up, after all of these years.

        As to your comment about Thompson and other photograhers not getting it, this is unfair and absurd. If you listen carefully to his words along with the sentiments of Abell, you will find that they “get it” in a much deeper way than most.

        • @Paul,

          What is, IS.
          There is obviously some cognitive dissonance represented on this subject.

          People want to see or identify in ways that are not true to how these arts or cultures exist now.

          The fine art world does not view the original photography as a valid representation within it’s own cultural context. If it did, the original photography would be in much higher demand reflected by high auction prices.

          I believe the fine art world sees these (original) images as more of a tangible *craft*, possibly a commercial craft. Whereas the images used in the context of the appropriation are not important on their own. The images are artifacts or references which support the concept. The “Art” here is conceptual. What Prince and other appropriators add to the images is a transformation – the Art is conceptual in nature.

          The original photographers may want to have their images identified as fine art, but obviously the fine art community has yet to endorse these images in the same way as the appropriations.

          Thank you Mr. Thompson for adding to the discussion

        • @Paul,
          What’s reductive about the term lifestyle photography? That’s exactly what it is in the context of the Marlboro campaign. They don’t directly advertise the product but the lifestlye that the product supposedly is part of.
          No one’s saying that lifestyle photography can’t be good photography.

          And I don’t think I’m being unfair with my comment about Thompson not getting it and I have elaborated why. I think Abell is a bit more understanding but he still falls somewhat short insofar as he seems to believe that Prince’s work is basically a prank on the artworld. I may be wrong about that, though.

          • @ Wm Thompson: Likewise, I appreciate your contribution and viewpoints.

            @ m: You have made some valid points here, and I am in agreement with some of what you have presented.

            Where you and I differ perhaps has more to do with how we each define art. I do not intend to directly insult you, but your viewpoints and seeming allegiance to the established art world, seem somewhat naive and defensive.

            Galleries for the most part are businesses, and have similar, yet scaled-down motives as do large corporations. Both hire publicists, and fan the flames with sales. Both are savvy to the power of hype and trend, and exploit it to full measure. And further down the line, the auctions sales are founded upon the success of the hype machine.

            As to Prince making certain statements, this is fine, and it could prove effective. The message he delivers could come from another pulpit, which gives clear reference to the other works, rather than leeching the lifeblood directly from them. Matisse and Picasso referenced African sculpture in their own works for years, but they did not photograph the sculpture and then claim it as their own.

            • @m, Clarification: I know that Prince does not claim that the referenced work is his own. What I meant to say is that Matisse and Picasso did not take a photo of the African sculpture, and then make huge profits from it. Rather, their painting and drawings were influenced stylistically from the ancient masters.

              • @Paul,

                The aesthetics of Matisse and Picasso are closer to old world painting than post modern conceptual art. The aesthetic considerations with regard to this photography are also more classic than contemporary.

                At the time Duchamp was working he was not well understood. It took some time before his art was accepted and appreciated. Some still “don’t get it”.

                The impressionists (while closer to classic aesthetics than post modern) were also not well accepted at first.

                • @Bob, Although I understand your historical references for terms of understanding context, I am addressing the broader implications in this situation. There are issues of integrity and ethics here, and clearly some of us disagree, which is fine.

                  Regarding your point of the artist being understood, this is true of most pioneers in the way of arts and sciences. It is not that important to me whether Prince is understood or accepted by the masses, but what I am looking at is the manner he made his choices, and the individuals or principles that he may have disregarded along the way.

                  At the end of the day, whose work will be remembered for instigating change and influencing the way we look at the world … pioneers like Picasso, or someone like Prince?

                  Lastly, on a logistical note, I admit an oversight. I am afraid that I combined the posts of M and Bob earlier on, and then addressed my response to only M. My apologies, Bob. You have both made insightful points, and asked some pertinent questions.

                  • @Paul, no worries on the “oversight” but thank you for the thoughts.

                    I have no doubt that “appropriation” has made it’s mark in the art world. Providing insight to understand and view the cultural influence in our world. Prince is but one of many artists working in this genre. It is not commonly known or understood by the public but then neither are many significant schools of modern art. I’m currently of the mind that “appropriation” may have been among the best ways to reference and communicate these concepts. Actually Cubism (Picasso) used some appropriation too, as did Duchamp :).

                    On ethics I believe these images were appropriated from the public media (mental) environment – not the photographers. The photographers created images directed by ADs for Marlboro. If I’m not mistaken, most if not all of the images are work for hire (copyright owned by the tobacco company). The appropriations reference advertising released into public space (culture) which co-opted the original identity of the cowboy, among other influences. (Nobody has made much fuss over the co-option of the cowboy identity or that the models did not get part of the auction pie).

                    The work I like the best of Abell’s are the images published in National Geographic. (I still have many original issues with his images on my shelves). I believe this work will be his legacy. btw – many of these image copyrights are not solely held by Abell.

                    This has been a long thread. I’ve learned some but am about done.

                    Here is an interesting blog:

                    • @Bob, You have presented some solid points here which are worth considering. Thanks for the worthwhile link, as well. Until our next dialogue, I bid you good cheer.

            • @Paul,
              Trust me, I’m very cynical about the whole established art world and am quite aware of its market realities. I just think it doesn’t make much sense speaking of art independently of an art world system. Sure, contemporary art galleries are mainly PR machines, and sure, there’s lots of rubbish in the art world that gets hyped into fame. But complaining that what gets dealt in the art world is not really art is mostly just bitterness over being unappreciated.
              I’m not saying that “getting it” means liking it. What I’m saying is that thinking of Prince as an artist who basically sells bootleg artworks (as Thomspson seems to suggest) is “not getting” it. If we want to discuss the merit of Prince’s work on the basis of it’s conceptual aspects then fine.

              And sure, he could’ve referenced it differently but I believe that would have been a whole different kind of art.

      • @m, Philip Morris (and Altria) slightly benefit from all the hype surrounding the Richard Prince re-photograph. The cowboy images are symbols of the Marlboro brand in the same way that the red and white logo represents that brand. In a way it is free publicity for Marlboro; and in a way Richard Prince is helping to promote cigarettes. Rather ironic.

        • @Gordon Moat,

          Helping promote cigarettes to whom?

          I guess the gulf oil crisis could be promoting British Petroleum to somebody too. But I can’t think of who that would be.

          • @Bob, my friend, glad to see you are still in the conversation. Apply a little of that creative spirit, and I think you can grasp that concept, whether or not you agree with it. I am not aiming for agreement, just understanding; though I suppose that was the same thing you stated. Shocking? Oh my!

    • @William Thompson, I am delighted to see you reply in this, and thank you for your well considered input. The upper financial bracket of the fine art auction and gallery world is driven as much on marketing and hype as it is on substance, though there are occasions when substance is lacking. So with Richard Prince, the hype has taken over, and become all there is to his “art”. Much like Bernie Madoff, Richard Prince knows how to real in the clients.

  17. Pedro Quezada

    I am a musician. I am also an amateur photographer. For me, it’s obvious that the photograph has to be contemplated by authoring rights. The guys who use it to create other “kind” of art have to face those rights, either paying royalties or simply being denied because of plagiarism! Just like original songs and versions made. Take Leonard Cohen’s “hallelujah” and the million versions created on it.