Whether you think it’s art is irrelevant. Nancy Spector, Chief Curator at the Guggenheim decided that “Prince’s work has been among the most innovative art produced in the United States during the past 30 years. His deceptively simple act in 1977 of rephotographing advertising images and presenting them as his own ushered in an entirely new, critical approach to art-making—one that questioned notions of originality and the privileged status of the unique aesthetic object.”

Whether or not you think it’s worth 3.4 million dollars is irrelevant. The value of a Richard Prince re-photograph has nothing to do with what’s depicted in the photograph. It has everything to do with the number of editions made (2 plus an artist proof in this case) and the reputation and stature of the artist within the community of collectors, curators and gallerists. Becoming the sole private owner of one of these photographs, when the other edition lives in a museum, is certainly worth millions to collectors.

You should embrace Richard Prince because he’s exercising a right all photographers enjoy and need. The ability to photograph copyrighted and even trademarked objects and sell the pictures for a use that doesn’t interfere with the copyrighted objects intended use–if he’d used those pictures to sell cigarettes then there’d be a problem. When you take a picture of a street scene and there are people wearing t-shirts with slogans, listening to ipods, talking on cell phones, billboards with advertisements in the background, cars, buildings and then you sell that photograph you don’t have to worry about lawsuits from all that copyrighted material.

I’m sure it’s not a very pleasant feeling to be the photographer (video of Sam Abell) who’s work Richard re-photographed, who now have to stand around and watch as their pictures hang on museum walls and set new records at auction. But, this is such a fundamental right photographers enjoy that without it we’d all be screwed.

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  1. I agree with the premise. Are the copies exactly the same as the originals? Color, cropping etc.? Warhol got famous via Campbell Soup cans but they seemed to be a bit more of a derivative work than just copystanding someones photo.

    • @Craig, Th soup can design wasn’t copyrighted, or Warhol would have been sued. Prince’s use of images is entirely bogus. He’s a copyist promoted by a few very wealthy collectors who think that stealing is cool. More important than a photographers right to photograph anything is their ability to control the resultant image. This argument is completely bogus…when everything becomes fair use, nobody actually makes any money.

  2. you make a great point but there needs to be some sort of line drawn about what is the freedom to photography copyrighted objects, verses blatently reproducing those objects in their whole.

    unfortunately when comes to art, lines are subjective (think the supreme court on porn: “i know it when i see it”)

  3. Thanks for the post. While I agree that Prince is “exercising a right all photographers enjoy and need,” it doesn’t make his action – Abell calls it plagiarism and “breaking the Golden Rule,” any better. Sam is unhappy not only with his rephotographed work, but also the continuing notion that the art establishments consider editorial photography “unworthy” – and, only in the context of being appropriated by someone else with the “reputation and stature of the artist within the community of collectors, curators and gallerists,” does it become “worthy.” Abell gave “life” to his photograph. It’s tragic that it feeds into a much larger community that may or may not appreciate the originality of the work.

    Maybe the price paid is irrelevant, it’s rather sad (in my opinion) that these particular appropriated works fetch such astronomical sums. Maybe Prince laughs at collectors’ willingness to pay for “plagiarism” all the way to the bank – who knows but himself — yet, if you side with Sam’s thoughts, Prince seems to be the kind of fellow who doesn’t have a problem living with the “sin” of his actions.

  4. I completely agree that a photographer should be able to take a picture of a street scene and not have to worry about copyright infringement for all the items you mention. But I think there’s a significant difference between that and what Mr. Prince does. Yes, he’s using the photographs for a different purpose than what they were originally intended for, but what about the flip side: What if I create a photograph that I intend as art, and someone comes along and takes a photograph of my photograph and uses it to sell cigarettes? There’s no doubt that Mr. Prince was innovative in his use of these photos. But innovation isn’t always ethical, or just.

  5. If you are an artist, why steal from someone else? Richard Prince blatantly copied other works of art and claimed them as his own. The art world can recognize this as original but there are financial motivations at play. Whether a photograph used in advertising or fine art is not the issue. Using someone else’s work without their permission is the point. How significant can it be when it is not original but a version of the original. This has happened in the art world before and will continue but it doesn’t make it right.

  6. And if I sneak into a museum and make duplicate negatives of some Ansel Adams photographs and then print a couple of hundred prints and misrepresent them to buyers as being printed by Adams and make a few hundred grand, I am making a wonderfully transgressive statement about the nature of ownership and authorship of artistic images, right?

    I mean, good for this guy for being able get people to buy his stuff, but, then again, some people pay a lot of money for poop in a can, too.

  7. Someone more knowledgeable than I should take up this point, but here goes: the images in question are not copyrighted by the original photographer but by the corporation who hired the photographer – and thus the photographer has no recourse to take up any argument. They can, as Sam so eloquently did in Charlottesville, call the guy “cheeky” while people laugh nervously.
    If we are allowed to steal material because we are using it for a purpose other than that for which it was intended – a coke ad for example – then there would have been no stock photography business for nearly 40 years – Copyright is not about intended use, it’s about protecting the copyright holder’s ability to collect on income whether he or she originally envisioned it or not –
    The street scene question – hmmmm. Again, sharper tools in the shed need to get at this. I suspect the idea of public display plays in here. Which might take us back around to that cheeky Mr. Prince.
    Great Friday Fight Club issue, thanks Rob.

  8. I think there is a long way between the iphones, billboards and such in a streetscene photo and the work of Richard Prince. Imagine if some big name band would record a song by another artist and claim it as it own. No one would be applauding.

    I think this shows how the “art world” works, if you are famous and established you can turn out bad work, plagiarism what ever, does not matter as its made by a “name”. Kind of sad.

    The real joke however is that someone paid so much money for it, I think Richard Prince should give at least 60% of it to the original copyright holder and by that he would prove his point and save face.



  9. So, perhaps if we all took cameras and re-photographed the re-photographs, and then produced just two large pictures (and an artist’s proof of course) could we all become millionaires do you think? Or do we have to have a “reputation in the art world first” There must be some rich idiot out there that will buy them, surely.

  10. Perhaps, Sam Abel, should snap a photo of his photo that has been STOLEN from him sell IT to the art community!

    If his photograph was photographed in a certain context, say on a billboard, I could understand Prince’s right to it. However, a photograph of a photograph is not art. It is merely a photograph of some else’s work!

    Sheesh, these people need to grow up!

  11. I usually read your blog but not very often agree with what you write as much as in this case.

    I think you are 100% right on, and unlike some commented I don’t think it’s up to no one to draw a line to how it is legitimate to re-photograph something or not. Crops or no crops, it’s always re-photography. Critique should fall exclusively into the quality of the contents of the re-photograph – as a new work – and the intention of the artist.

    You also make an extremely interesting point when you imply street photography in this. After all the act itself of photographing is about REPRODUCTION, whatever the SUBJECT.

    Photographs are subjects too.

  12. You know, this is just the sort of fonder on which satire is written!

  13. What a dandy a post for the weekend!

    Why not just any old photograph? What makes these image worthy of copying?

    Is the art world really just one big xerox machine?

    How is this really any different from poor Scott’s plight. Abell has a right to be mad.


    Copying work pays better than creating work?

    Does Richard’s idea fall a bit short? What other ‘pictures’ in the world can be copied? The Mona Lisa, for instance?

  14. I don’t think the buyer got screwed at all in this one. If you collect art for your ego then a print hanging in your house that also hangs in an important museum will certainly satisfy you. If you do if for money then a print from an edition of two from an important living artist (curators say so) then the value will only increase over time. If you do it for personal reasons because you like the look of something then it’s totally up to you what’s good and what’s not.

  15. Rob,

    Your argument is good but Richard Prince is a bad example.

    We know Prince has had to pay some people to stop lawsuits. My assumption is, his lawyers tell him it is cheaper to settle because the money train comes to an end if a court decides his work doesn’t meet the fair use or, derivative exception to copyright laws.

    I’m no expert but, aren’ there are better examples? Prince seems to be close to the edge, or perhaps over the edge.

  16. Please visit my “art gallery” blog. I think that you will all find it very interesting. “Tomé should be especially interested in my work, at present!”, she said, tongue in cheek.

    And, with a satirical laugh…

    Just making my point, guys.

  17. Well, I sorta agree with your argument, but what Prince does goes way beyond that. If he had ‘simply’ photographed the billboards in their environment, that would be different. Also, I think in his recent W covers he totally ripped off the photographers, and the subjects of the photographs and forged signatures.

  18. The art community doesn’t care about ‘art’, they care about themselves and their manufactured social importance.

    Prince can do what he wants. The *success* of what he’s done is squarely the responsibility of the art world, which obviously has no respect for the real artist.

    Now don’t act all surprised.

  19. Another example of appropriation would be Sherrie Levine’s work with Walker Evans photographs. Appropriation is common fodder in fine art classes with the same results we can read in the above comments. For me its like, yeah interesting thought, can we move on now? I mean what year did he do this (1977)? For me the imagery is just not that interesting outside of the original photographers intent-where it should remain. Interesting article from last year here:


    Again the idea was, whats original. Got it, both sides please get over it. Talk about beating a dead horse (pun intended).

  20. Good point, Sean! “Why not just any old photograph? What makes these image(s) worthy of copying?”

    Take Tomé’s image from his blog. (I just did! LOL)

    It has a clarity about it, haunting peoples daily lives. It’s a great image!

    Your photo said it all, in just that one shot! It’s what people wanted to “say” to others about that incident.

    Where is the line?

    Remember when rappers started “sampling” other artists music on their albums? It was a big deal! Now it’s the norm.

    My feeling is, if someone else’s work is altered for the sake of art, so be it. However, had you owned the rights to your photo, what would you have done? It was cropped, yet…

  21. It’s far more complicated than this.

    Sure, Prince does create more of an environment for artists and photographers to be able to use certain copyrighted material in their works. However, I highly doubt that this at all entered into his motivation for his works.

    Why do I think this? Because I’ve recently read a wealth of information relating to Prince, his work, his ideas, and his slick thievery. I wrote a paper on Prince, as well as Sherrie Levine (for any who don’t know her of her – http://aftersherrielevine.com is a good reference), and how their respective styles of appropriationism art reflect what’s discussed by Walter Benjamin in his famous “Works of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” essay — essentially — how their work adds a new “aura” and value to the “original” pieces which they copied.

    Prince didn’t attempt to make better rights for other artists. He wanted to prove that he could make art out of advertisement and sleaze (look to his Girlfriends series). He, and critcs around him, were crafty writers, and that can gain you much repute in the art world. Levine’s purpose was different, though equally influential to the art public by the opinion of critics at her side. To say that Prince’s “Cowboys” series takes power not from what’s depicted in it, but from the number of editions that he makes would be taking a far-too-rudimentary look at how he does things.

    If you’d ever wander into the Guggenhiem, and see the size of his prints, I feel that you may be taken aback simply by the sheer scale of his works. And yet – they’re meant to be printed at a size that’s likely no larger than 8×10″ – he did, after all, re-photograph them from magazines. You have to ask yourself, then – why does he bestow such a grand scale of print unto something so small and seemingly insignificant?

    You can see the halftone pattern, the imperfections, and the colour-fringes. You know immediately that this is a reproduction when you look up close. The fact that he copied from something so small and then blew it up emphasizes this (it would have been different had he re-photographed a large billboard, per se). We begin to get a sense that Prince paradoxically creates limited editions that are “studies” in reproduction and that he’s working to shift the value and power of mass reproduced works – and he couldn’t have chosen a better subject to use. Not only are the Marlboro ads mass produced in a plethora of mediums, but their message becomes mass produced and highly genericized as well – he knows this, and he also “shifts” this; in effect he “explores” the concepts of the series in several ways.

    That is, at least partly, what this Prince asshole’s deal is about. If I had to bet on it, I wouldn’t hesistate to say that copyright law and whether he would “get in shit” for something like this was the last thing on his mind. To him, these ads were comical – they were lifeless, and overwhelmingly too common. In his spare time, he wondered if he could inject some life into them. Somebody saw them, somebody liked them, and somebody gave him more credit than he ever deserved.

    By the way – to #13 – the Mona Lisa HAS been copied. Look up “L.H.O.O.Q.” by Marcel Duchamp.

  22. Y’know- even though you are steeped in the facileness (by necessity, I understand) of the commercial world, I still must credit you for this post and recognize your intentions (even if it is a gross over-simplification and doesn’t begin to address the ways in which Prince’s work can be read and understood.)

    BUT- many of the resulting comments are hilarious and, at times, frightening in their parochialism and naïveté.

    ‘What if I create a photograph that I intend as art, and someone comes along and takes a photograph of my photograph and uses it to sell cigarettes?’
    There is simply no time right now to begin to list the examples!! The entire history of photography (particularly in its commercial manifestation,) is one of plagiarism.

    K. Frantz:
    ‘If you are an artist, why steal from someone else?’
    This is intended to be humorous, yes?

    ‘And if I sneak into a museum and make duplicate negatives of some Ansel Adams photographs……’
    Did Sherrie Levine never exist? Is this for real?

    + ‘some people pay a lot of money for poop in a can, too.’
    Is this an intentional reference to Piero Manzonni?

    ‘However, a photograph of a photograph is not art.’
    As opposed to a “successful” and visible image culled from advertising, which is directly copied from a preexisting photograph simply unknown to its legions of viewers (because very, very few folks functioning in “photography” have any operative sense of the medium’s history)?

    When Prince first investigated this process of isolating and recontextualizing existing material, the “art world” was markedly different than today, and he was inarguably not making this work out of capitalist interests (quite the contrary.)
    Let’s not even get our hands dirty with Victor Burgin, or heaven forbid, Duchamp (much less the ways this plays out in literature.)

    People who make rote images designed to satisfy third parties are not well equipped to comment on other uses of photomechanical reproduction. Surgeons and madmen both have need of scalpels, though for very different purposes. Ultimately, Man Ray was right when he quipped, “Art is not photography.”

    And, now you can all get back to checking your histograms……

  23. If we all just get over it how will we solved the pressing problems of the world? (Just being a wise-A!)

    The beauty of blogs is that we can express our points of view. To wit…

    “For me the imagery is just not that interesting outside of the original photographers intent-where it should remain. ”

    Allen, I agree and disagree. The photo, in totality, certainly is within the intent of the original photographer. Yet, if it is altered, skewed to create new intent, it can be very stimulating as art.

    Prince is just stealing other’s work! PERIOD.

  24. Excellent discussion. I don’t want to get a rep as a poster who takes people off on a tangent but check out this guy if you don’t know him: make it social commentary and we can all feel better about it!

  25. Very original, Max Ernst! You must own one of Prince’s pieces.

    There’s enough hot air here to melt the poles!

    Less is more, Max. KISS

  26. And one more thing, Max. It matters dearly to the photojournalist\ artist\photographer in general whether or not the mass even know the image exists! It’s not about the masses. It’s about that moment in time when you caught something that you know is great, and it’s yours.

    There is no need of execration!

  27. “This is an explicit strategy to create a physical object with cultural value, but little or no economic value.”


    I can wrap my mind around the above statement. If it is for noncommercial use.

    However, I feel that the creator of the work should be able to make a living in his or her lifetime!

  28. I am curious what Richard Prince’s statement regarding this work. I could only imagine the tapestry of bullshit it must weave.

    Rob for someone who champions photography and photographers and find it hard to believe that Prince’s work does not leave a bit of distaste. I agree with your argument but I also agree with Lucas in that Prince is over the edge and a bad example.

  29. It’s taking me months of looking deeper into his pieces to understand this although at first I thought it was total shit and was quite upset by it all.

    It’s photography remixed. Prince has taking what I would consider street photography and infiltrated the fine art world. Good for him. It’s ground breaking and fresh to see the stuff fine art world pay so much for his work. We should be so lucky.

    Plus it’s getting all of us to talk about art on many many levels which is another area of success for his work.

  30. It’s bold work that’s created a stir, as long as people stand divided in opinion about your work then you’ve created healthy Art. Photographers should be free to photograph everything and anything up to the point of defamation, the same should apply to all artists.

  31. Yeah I certainly don’t think Richard gives a flying rats ass about this copyright discussion or preserving the rights of photographers but I do think it was a stroke of luck that he made pictures of advertisements where the photographer doesn’t own the copyright and he cropped them and they were in magazines not hanging in a gallery somewhere and then built a career collecting this type of stuff and that all adds up to something. Just looking at the pictures out of context they look like utter bullshit. Regardless, it can be shoehorned into this argument that if you create something original people can do things with it that don’t infringe on your ability to make money off of it or your original intent in creating it.

  32. Prince in fact does laugh about the astronomical sums this particular work has been fetching at auction and private sale. That from a gallerist who has been friends with the artist for years.

    My first impression upon viewing the images at the Guggenheim at Prince’s recent exhibition was the sheer grandeur or largesse of Sam Abell’s vision. Yes, in its day this imagery was plastered across tremendous outdoor billboards, but until seeing it in the museum context I’m not sure I ever fully appreciated the achievement embedded in this classic work. It reached me on so many levels. It embodied elements of graphic and conceptual clarity I feel are rare or completely absent in today’s version of “great” advertising. It seemed to invent an entirely new iconographic vocabulary that reverberated beyond any list of production credits. Kudos Sam Abell.

    So upon reading the short artist statement posted next to the gigantic prints at the Guggenheim, I was also surprised to discover that I found Prince’s perspective — the elements that he is contributing to the discussion by using this imagery as his source material, if not equally compelling, at least important in it’s own right.

    Prince hasn’t diminished Sam Abell’s photography in any way, and as far as I know, no show has so effectively celebrated advertising pictures to the degree that these prints did for thousands of museum-goers. Whether or not that was the intent.

    APE’s post speaks to an important right that photographers shouldn’t take for granted, whether or not Prince’s fantastic burst of inspiration, which kind of exists on its own plane, signifies any kind of meaningful parallel.

  33. Rob you beat me to it, I was going to do a whole piece on Prince but probably won’t.

    #23 gets it closest for me-

    It is interesting to read and listen to all the interviews Prince has given on his work, he says essentially the same thing most times but sometimes he slips, I think he does know he is stealing and at times he claims this advertising work is “author-less” and sometimes he acknowledges a creator.

    For me what I find interesting, he said once he felt like he was “restoring” the photograph back to being a photograph by cropping out the ad type and making two prints. Despite all the high theory being advanced to defend his practice, it really is about some old-school “hand of the artist” thing. The Prince magically restoring the art to the photograph. In this way he is more like a painter, except there are two, one for him and one for the collector. Interesting also that there are two-why not just one?

    I think this is why the art establishment likes him, he protects the value of the work in ways that photographers have been loathe to do, except perhaps Brett Weston destroying all his negs like he did. The art world loves scarcity perhaps more than what the thing is, it is an easily defensible position.

    think of other artists who do very few works, Jeff Wall comes to mind, very small numbers, few works, essentially anti-photographic. It is just another way photography gets the shitty end of the stick.

    Follow the money and you can understand why he has been successful.

  34. from and interview by Brian Appel:

    BA: Richard, I’ve always loved the fact that your photographic editions were so small. The cowboy image from the 16th of May was from an edition of two. Traditionally, fine art photographers think nothing of going back to their negatives ten, twenty, thirty or even forty years after the original exposures are made and use photographic materials that are completely removed from the original technological conditions from which the initial images were created – in effect producing pictures that are divorced from their time frame. Lee Friedlander for example, who has recently enjoyed a one-man retrospective at MoMA, has, since 1994, produced several dozen copies (58) of one of his most ‘important’ images from his “Self-Portrait” series entitled “N.Y.C. (Shadow on Fur Collar)”, of 1966. This is, of course, not including all the ‘printed later’ versions he did in the 70s and 80s where records of prints produced are more difficult to ascertain.

    When I look at your photo based artworks I always know that the image I am looking at is a print done in close proximity to the original exposure. Your ‘copy’ of someone else’s ‘original’ is in effect ‘authentically vintage’, quite ironic given the fact that your image started out as a ‘copy’ of someone else’s work.

    RP: This was a choice I made back in 1980. I was treating the photograph as an object. Always thinking about the way it was presented. The framing was important. I always wanted to present it so it looked like a ‘regular’ photograph – nothing fancy or creative. Normality is the next ‘special effect’.

    Anyway, a lot of photographers made huge editions or “open ended” editions that seemed to make their photos almost into ‘posters’. I thought by making my photo into an edition of two it would still be a multiple – it would still be within the norms of what a photograph was supposed to be; i.e.: more than one, but it would make it more like other art works which are usually unique. “Almost unique”, but not quite. I think this choice was fairly radical at the time, especially in the “Photo World” (not that I got any attention from the photo world – I still don’t). It was the perfect number to edition my photos. You’ve got one, I’ve got one.

  35. You clearly do not understand the concept of intellectually property. If you think that because Richard Princes theft is no problem because he has a market willing to buy, then you would be willing to purchase counterfit 50 or 100 dollar bills…”it’s okay, they really don’t look exactly like the originals.” Yea…good idea!!! If you think he is anything besides a cheap rip off artist, who steals for a living, than I think you are convieniently stupid. Stupid-definition…one who knows better, but believes or proceeds in a fashion contrary to that cognition. See idiot…

  36. That’s harsh.

    Is architectural photography stealing if the picture is of a building you didn’t design yourself? I know, it’s not truly the same. But some locations do claim copyright protections.

    Luckily, Prince’s work is a rare example of a particular kind of folly and happened to be a major fire-starter. Personally I enjoy how it gets the conversation going.

    By the way, it is my understanding that Sam Abell made a fortune shooting those advertisements. Are there any losers here?


  37. So, since you started this blog with no original intention of making it into a book, can I appropriate your creation and use it to make money in a way that you didn’t originally intend? You created something original, and I will put it in another format and make money off it. You’re OK with that, right? I won’t infringe on your online blogging. I may or may not edit out some of the comments.

  38. Shouldn’t we thank Sherrie Levine as well.

    So many great artists have touched on this stuff

  39. 39 – While the architectural question is a real one in the world of IP, the money question is irrelevant. I can’t steal a Rolling Stones song just because they made a ton of money off it – see Rolling Stones v The Verve (which I actually think went way over the line in the other direction).

  40. “he said once he felt like he was “restoring” the photograph back to being a photograph by cropping out the ad type and making two prints”

    When the photographer printed the original image, it wasn’t printed as an ad. The agency took his image and placed the piece into the ad. Prince cropping the ad out returns it to the work of the original creator! If it is ethically acceptable for Richard Prince to do so, of what use would it be for the photographer to reproduce their work? We can all just start taking the images we want and reproducing them. Yippy!

    “Traditionally, fine art photographers think nothing of going back to their negatives ten, twenty, thirty or even forty years after the original exposures are made and use photographic materials that are completely removed from the original technological conditions from which the initial images were created – in effect producing pictures that are divorced from their time frame.”

    Well, I’m all out of debate energy. My only hope is that photographers get just dues and can make some money, too.


  41. Basically this all seems to be about the fact that Sam Abell sold his copyright to Marlboro, a company that is not averse to seeing its ads being reproduced in a way that engenders them hundreds of column inches of comment. Bet your bottom dollar that if the Marlboro lawyers didn’t like the exposure then they would shut him doen.


    Don’t sell your copyright.

    [Unless of course, you are being offered the price of a new house for it….but then please don’t complain when it turns out years later that it was maybe worth a hundred new houses and you feel you got shortchanged on the deal you signed off on that you thought was so good at the time ]

    I saw three Richard Prince pictures in a show at Tate Modern last week ( http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/streetandstudio/ ) and they were among the bext things in the show. Copied, sure, but placed in such a way that was clearly way above what the original photographer meant.

    Its a bit like Martin Parr’s “Autoportraits” – or his “Boring Postcards” ~ He didn’t MAKE the pictures, but he brought them to our attention, and made money from them.

    I think it was Duke Ellington who was aked how he felt aboot people stealing his tunes and he said “Those cats can take all they want, I have plenty more where that came from………….” (i paraphrase)

    Take it take it all.

    I’ll come back with stuff you ain’t seen yet.

    God love you Richard Prince. You spend your money on art.


  42. doen/down bext/best axed/asked

    [sorry, its been a three bottle of wine night.]


  43. Well, maybe just one more comment…she said sheepishly.

    Robert, most of us here have probably been in a situation where we didn’t hold “title” to our photos. It’s called paying the rent. However, that is not the point! The point is that someone does have copyright on those photos. The law is to protect us when we do!

    It’s just as my father use to say, that people want others to respect and obey the laws, especially when it’s of benefit to them. However, they don’t want to respect and obey the law, when it’s of benefit to them!

    You cannot have it both ways! There has to be a line of demarcation somewhere.

  44. ups do i read irony and sarcasm. not everybody seems to read it.
    Anway: I like Richard Prince. He has humour and that cannot be said about every working photographer out there.

    The reason why people pay a lot of money for his reproductions: he lifted postmodern and deconstructionist thought into visual art, when he started with his tuff. Now everybody does it. He was the first. In the artworld that gets you the price.

  45. It’s a wonderful and maybe unreplicable (sp?) creative event. Maybe that’s why this kind of thing is incredibly rare. This work has been duly scrutinized by art and legal experts, and deemed of sufficient value to merit its status as a work of art. It’s also a huge crowd-pleaser. Any one of us would be a lot more famous if we were unfortunate enough to have been his “victims”.

    If any of you are the actual victims of copyright infringement in some discernible way, by all means take it to the legal system. But how does that add up to limiting Richard Prince’s artistic freedom or daring? And what do commercial photographers who’ve made the ill-advised decision to sell their own copyrights have to do with any of this?

    To compare this to run-of-the-mill literary plagiarism seems disingenuous. To whomever suggested publishing a book without permission that’s a mirror lift of APE’s blog; I say try it, and you’ll quickly find out (at your own expense plus treble damages) just how well the system does work.

  46. Who cares about all this photography stuff? It’s small change!

    Better yet, just rewrite a bestseller into a screenplay and sell it for MANY millions to a Hollywood studio!

    The same rule should hold true since the original author only intended it as a book and not a movie, right?

    Sure, the WGA will call it plaigirism, but I call it “recontextualization” right?

    See, I’m a genius artist too.

  47. I appreciate a lot of Rob’s articles as they are usually thought provoking, though this is one I really wish had never made it to my screen.

    Personally I don’t think a lot about Richard’s Prince’s “work” as it looks to me like anybody with a large format copy camera could have produced it, but I’m probably not the best judge as I never was that impressed with Warhol’s soup can either and I don’t really see the difference between the two.

    I was impressed with the George Lois Esquire cover of Warhol drowning in the soup can, I thought that was original satire at it’s best.

    Regardless of my personal opinion I am a little surprised by the moral indignation people have towards Richard Prince.

    Maybe it’s justified, but to take this one step further, how many photographers can say they’ve never opened a book of Man Ray, Avedon, Karsh, Bourdin, Lange, Evans, etc. or looked at the websites of Kander, Lindbergh or Roversi and not tried to “emulate” any of these photographers?

    How many photographer’s either by plan or client instruction try to light like Annie?

    In the fashion world the stories are legendary of photographers taping tear sheets or art photographs onto the wall and turning to assistants and models with the instructions, “do this”.

    So if we’re really going to be pure of heart, let’s all raise our hands and take a vow that the next client that walks in with a tear sheet or a canon laser copy of a layout that has another photographer’s work, we’re all going to say , “no thanks, you should call the person that shot the layout”.

    Personally, I don’t think what Richard Prince did was any more wrong than Warhol and if he infringed on anybody’s rights it was Phillip Morris.

    I do know had he copied something from Disney his profit margin would have been absorbed in legal fees.

    What I do find interesting is this topic covered 50 something posts, (probably will go double that) though the excellent and sharing information from Darius has only received 7 replies.

    Darius’ information is something we all can learn and profit from, the Richard Prince article is just something to complain about but really changes nothing, other than to give Richard Prince more publicity.

    There is one imaginary scene that sticks in my mind when I see the number that the photographs sold for. Imagine going home for Thanksgiving and saying Mom, ” I just sold a photo for a million bucks” and Mom says “oh that’s great dear what did you photograph?” and Mr. Prince replies, “uh really nothing, I just copied an old Marlboro ad from a Magazine”.

    Mom probably replies “let’s don’t mention this over dinner”.


  48. Just another reminder (like I needed it) of why postmodernism and “artists” in general are nothing but bullshit.

    Read this again:

    “Prince’s work has been among the most innovative art produced in the United States during the past 30 years. His deceptively simple act in 1977 of rephotographing advertising images and presenting them as his own ushered in an entirely new, critical approach to art-making—one that questioned notions of originality and the privileged status of the unique aesthetic object.”

    So, apparently the most innovative art the US can produce is a guy who copies a photo and blows it up? So if I take the photo that Prince copied and bring it into Photoshop and uprez it, I guess I’ll be blowing away everyone at the Guggenheim? And then someone can take “my” work, uprez it again, and we’ll all collapse into a black hole of artistic genius!

  49. Well, at the very least it has brought attention to an important issue.

    I believe intent shouldn’t be ignored on this issue. It also “feels” wrong doesn’t it? Never ignore that little voice in the pit of your stomach – my Dad always said.

    Anyway, you look at this, I believe the original photographer – or in this case the owner of the image [probably Marlboro] deserves some compensation; some slice of the rather considerable action. I would love to see this go to the courts.

  50. When he says “you’ve got one, I’ve got one” I think I understand now that RP feels like a collector-there was another interview where he described working at Time in the tearsheet dept. and he would “see” something and say, “that’s mine.”

    There are different ways to make work, one is to create, the other is to collect. I think RP is more a collector than anything.

    The art world still likes “the aura” part about art. This is what RP was doing, putting the aura back on advertising photography, now whether or not this is needed or interesting is another question. I think we we photographers get our noses out of joint is when it appears that someone is taking “the poor cousin” photography and putting it right. the copyright issue is pretty moot to me. this is about pride.

    For example if I make cliche picture about a suburban shopping mall parking lot with a station wagon am I not saying, “look at this” …” there is a beauty here you are not seeing?” which is pretty much what RP was doing, saying look at this, this is heroic, and also dark and troubling and about machismo, americanism, etc etc, all of that mythicism and all from a cigarette ad?

    Abell has a point that the art establishment has something to answer for, the way they value photography, the way they value editorial work (favouring famous portraits over photojournalism) the way they value photography that is essentially painting (Wall, Crewdson) over work that is more essentially photographic, all of this is germane.

    His point also about the “life of a photograph” is interesting too, although I am not sure it supports his thesis. You could say in the life of some photographs, for example, work made on hire for someone else, vernacular work, it begins and ends with the product cycle, very little of it lives beyond it’s original intent, which was to sell a product. In this case RP gave another life to this work, one that went well beyond the original intent.

    Don’t forget a lot of the great Magnum work, Capa, Bichoff, etc was made for magazine reproduction. It was made not as an object but as a vehicle for a message. The fact that the art world then takes it and does it’s own recontextualization and hangs a show “Robert Capa War photography” is another life then, images made for magazine repro suddenly appearing on the gallery wall. We think of this now with Salgado and Nachtway as something normal, to see the images in Time and in the gallery, but not all conflict photography, to take one example of a vernacular use, has done this.

    blathering on, there was a painter who did copies of photographs not too long ago-I wanted to hit him on the head pretty squarely, he did a copy of a Jeff Brouws picture. In that case, it was just dumb, yet he sold a few, but he was adding nothing, the idea was even stupid. RP has something else going I think.

    I think it should be possible to go to the show and photograph in the gallery, don’t you? but what do you bet there is a photography ban? The art world has no irony i guess.

  51. Shit, I missed the boat. Who would have thought all those copy stand assignments I did in school could have let me ski the working years and retire.

    In a way, it’s like Andy Warhol and his Brillo Pads and the repeated iconic photos of Jackie Kennedy and the car crash or Marilyn Monroe. It’s not really anything new. To some it’s annoying, to others it’s awesome. I understand it, but I’m leaning on the side that says it’s annoying. Maybe that’s Prince’s point. Where does it end…or does art ever have a limit? What if say I decide to go and photograph the entire ‘Fat Baby’ book by Eugene Richards and make up some glamorized over zealous excuse about my reasonings, then sit around a bunch of people with similar mind-sets to newspaper editors who gawk at the sign of anything new without actually understanding it.

    I appreciate Prince for his ability to think outside the box along with the inclination to act on his thoughts. It’s weird because there’s something inside me that says it’s morally wrong, but at the same time I’m thinking it’s not and I’m siding with the artist for the simple fact that he’s got us thinking about something. Maybe it’s not in a different way, and maybe there are people out there who have already done this, but I guess they’re not famous, so they’ll continue to go unnoticed. Who knows.

    Good topic.


  52. This is all such utter bullshit.

    How about I take one of those Chinatown knockoff Louis Vuitton bags with the Murakami print and put it in a gallery show as ART. Since Murakami’s intention was for it to be a commercial product and not art, it’s not copyright infringement, right? And then I’ll take some of his paintings and reproduce them on t-shirts. Same rule applies, right?

    I fail to see the originality in something Duchamp did a long time before. At least LHOOQ had a sense of wit and if you don’t like the urinal you can piss on it, both metaphorically and literally.

    Prince’s greatest work of art is the giant scam he’s pulled on the art world.

  53. “he says “you’ve got one, I’ve got one” I think I understand now that RP feels like a collector-there was another interview where he described working at Time in the tearsheet dept. and he would “see” something and say, “that’s mine.” There are different ways to make work, one is to create, the other is to collect. I think RP is more a collector than anything.”

    IMHO: If one is a collector, then he is collecting the work of another. If he is an artist he is the creator of the work.

    “Prince’s greatest work of art is the giant scam he’s pulled on the art world.” That’s it in a nut shell!

  54. @58-did you go to see ICP show Barbara Bloom? collection/categorization is a valid method of making art.

    Originality does not equal art.

    Photographers may not like what Prince did, and what Prince did may in fact be hostile to photography (my opinion actually-see what I said above, he turned a photograph into a painting essentially) but as an experience of art, his contribution is very valid and meaningful.

    but I don’t think it is particularly radical, the notion of rephotography, or recontextualization. He took something outside of the art establishment and made it very palatable to the art establishment. this is the real issue. it is what Abell says the art establishment has to answer for. Why is the one worth more than the many?

    and everyone complaining here about how he violated the golden rule of the creator, the very notion of appropriation depends highly on the “someone” appropriating. Not everyone can do it. so we are back to the aura of the hand of the creator, essentially painting, and photographers also depend on this when they make platinum prints and dye transfer, that aura of the solitary made object.

    Prince is no different than other photographers, and he is pretty establishment old school art if you ask me. Hardly radical, even in his time.

    I’m leaving the country now!

  55. The way I interpret this mess is that the art community gave Price his right to rephotograph photographs. I’m interested in his TRUE original intentions of rephotography. What if he started this whole thing because he was documenting a picture he’d like to reproduce someday? I know I save pictures I consider inspirational from the internet all the time. My intention is that I’d like to try to duplicate the lighting concept, or pose of the model for an altogether new image.

    My point is that the guy’s work is insanely rich solely because his peers and their influence on the rest of the art world allowed them to be. What effort has he put into his success?? And how will that success influence future photographers? Copycatting is not something I will ever want to see become a trend in art. And because of this publicity, I can easily see it happening.

  56. Plain and simple – he broke the law. It is a clear violation of copyright law – the same as if I stole this web site and published it as a book. Copyright law has no exclusion for if you are making money off a purpose the original author didn’t intend. This falls nowhere close to Fair Use. Philip Morris chose not to sue because they don’t mind the publicity. This is just someone stealing from you, but you choose not to press charges. They still broke the law, but there are no consequences.

    The rest is just hokey art world crap. Just because something is legal or illegal or right or wrong – is a separate question from whether the art world eats it up or spits it out. It’s all about PR. If you went just by the amount of notice something gets, then Paris Hilton is a far superior artist to Cate Blanchett.

  57. I defy any of you What If I Did This’s and What If I Did That’s to produce anything related to what might be considered art or garner any attention, other than from lawyers, by executing any these witless examples of supposedly parallel behavior.

    Andy Warhol changed how media perceives the world, and especially how everyone in publishing, who reassessed their own roles in society on his cue, visually and conceptually, portrays the world. And that would include George Lois, who as much as everyone is talking about him this year, wouldn’t even exist without the windows Warhol opened. Lois is a legendary ad guy, with some great reactive covers for Esquire, from an era when that was seemingly possible, but he’s being celebrated by his OWN, not by a mainstream culture that has been truly reconfigured because of his innovations. Yes, Warhol spawned a boatload of infuriating disciples, but no one here as made a compelling argument for who they are or why.

    Statistically, 99.99999 percent of APE’s readers are inconsequential (maybe unconscious) imitators. If any of us goes on to impact “art” or “the discussion” or “creativity” in any meaningful way, please come back and reveal your name to Rob, and then we’ll all re-read your posts, and eat crow.

    Meanwhile, isn’t it worth cheering on anyone who is somehow able to do that, even if it may not be to our own taste?

  58. Well, if you ask me, Nancy Spector is a horse’s ass.

  59. The assertion that Prince’s actions are covered by Section 107 (Fair Use) is ridiculous.

    The four criteria are:

    1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; [Prince sure isn’t “nonprofit”]

    2. the nature of the copyrighted work; [abell/krantz photograph > prince photograph]

    3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and [the entire work was used]

    4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. [Marlboro sure isn’t going to be re-licensing those images now]

    Abell is a very gracious man and is comes across as a lot more thoughtful and intelligent than Prince does. Prince is a hack and the “rephotography” he does is as much a farce as his Biennial piece which was an overblown excuse for him to buy and/or show off his muscle car.

    I’m obviously not a big fan of the “art world” when it comes to stuff like this.

    I really hope R.J. Reynolds uses their considerable resources and immense legal team to sue Prince out of the 3.4 million he made on Abell’s photograph. He sure deserves it.

  60. Prince did not physically peel the Marlboro advert away from a billboard and mount it in a gallery. He photographed it and printed it in a fashion of his choosing. If he had photographed a billboard but had included surrounding scenery would it have been PC enough, would the art work have still been relevant?

  61. Everyone copies, imitates and/or incorporates original copyrighted material in their own original and of course it’s all about how much you take and how you transform it that makes it legal and an important part of photography. And so I suppose Richard is well past that line and he intended to take the whole concept to the (n)th degree to see how it would work out for him. It does take balls to hang your career on an idea like that. After reading all these comments I might modify “embrace” to say “hate, just don’t hate too much” because in the end it’s a concept we all use… to some degree.

  62. Richard Prince is the perfect example of the problem with much modern art. There is no mastery of the craft. There is no lifetime of study that results in the evolution of a master artist anymore. Natural talent combined with discipline to create skill.

    Art is what you can get away with these days and we are in a dark age of art.

    Look at architecture. Within the past century everything from design to material to craftsmanship has devolved into what we have today. Drop ceilings, bad light and cookie-cutter designs pumped out by college degree architects.

    Richard Prince is an opportunist who uses controversy to sell his snake oil. A talentless hack who is as detrimental to Art as someone mimicking Picasso’s cubist period swilling cheap wine and cheddar at the Hoboken Art Fair.

  63. no, i’m actually not mean. i’m sorry if i inadvertantly hurt your feelings. not my intent.

  64. @62

    It will take a few hundred years before anyone knows what is considered important art from out time. It is possible a lot of the people we consider important may not stand up to the test of time. A large group of artists, who today are unknown and probably living near poverty, will be considered the best and most important artists of our era.

    Look at Willem de Kooning; he spent most of his life broke. Only became significant late in his life and not significant in the art world until well after he had done his best work.

    Rembrandt’s paintings from late in his life were unsellable during his lifetime.

    We all know the story of van Gogh. He was not a significant painter during his lifetime, now he is.

    But, the best known example might be Mozart and Salieri. Mozart died broke and discredited. Salieri dies a major force.

    In the future, someone who is on APE might just be consequential and Prince might be inconsequential. Just the way the art world works.

  65. #62 is talking sense in my opinion, I wouldn’t knock anyone who has ‘made it’ but I wouldn’t necessarily say I liked there work. Prince’s photographs are not visually stimulating for me in anyway but I do appreciate his ideas.

    Frank, fashions change as time goes on and I’m not sure about you but I’m planning on getting noticed before I die, I’m at least planning on paying the bills.

  66. came back for checking and wow, look at this debate…

    there’s something i like about art when it is so provocative. some said this isn’t a good example, “too much on the edge”.

    it’s a PERFECT example precisely for being on the edge.

    here’s another great example:

  67. This is one of the best examples of why you should always retain your copyright.

    matthew pace

  68. tome @72 – I was one who said it was a poor example and too much on the edge.

    It depends upon the example you are trying to make. Rob’s initial post was about photographers having the right to photograph copyrighted materials for fine art. My thought some of Jay Maisel’s city scene is a better example. Because he has worked within the law.

    As far as RP’s work being a PERFECT example of being on the edge from an art form, we will have to disagree. The discussion on this hasn’t been about the art. We are talking about the legality of the art. Not the content of the art. After all, he didn’t have much influence on how the art was produced. Someone else decided lighting, composition, all he did was crop and enlarge.

    I’m not going to say RP’s rephotographs are good work or bad. But, as Frank pointed out, money, success, fame, or doing something provocative does not mean the art is important in the long term. It doesn’t mean the art is important today. It just means it is expensive and the artist has rich collectors.

    Provocative or, edgy art should make us talk about the art – not the legality of the process. Funny, I just looked at the discussion again and other than a few generic comments on how he cropped the work I don’t see anything else about the work. So, not a good example in my book. However, it did get a discussion going. So, it is provocative – but only from a legal/moral standpoint.

  69. @70
    In our interconnected universe of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, artists toiling away in poverty who are so far ahead of their time that no one can understand — this is an outdated notion, and has been for years already, and definitely since before de Kooning, who made important canvases nearly up until death, and who spent at least forty years as a very rich man.

    I don’t concur with your assessments about the arc of his work, or about our ability as individuals or as a collective audience to have meaningful and valid responses about the merit or worth of a work of art, in the present, regardless of how that perception evolves over hundreds of years.

    That said, what you and I know about any of this has been and will continue to be hugely influenced by the art intelligentsia — gallerists, art historians, curators — who really do control the pipeline. They have already deemed Prince worthy of a place in the pantheon. The internet breakout star hasn’t occurred yet, but I’m sure it will. And of course when it does, the talk shows will all feature interviews with …. gallerists, curators, and art historians, to discuss the merits of the phenomenon.

    I find it interesting how so many of us are holding up the “within the law” criteria as an ultimate barometer. The law? I live in the West Village of Manhattan, where today hundreds of thousands are marching or watching the gay pride parade — kind of an overcrowded rainy mess, actually. But these citizens are victimized daily by prejudices embedded in The Law.

    The Law is changing, rapidly. Artists, politicians, activists, and of course technology are all impacting how we make, consume, and think about “art”.

    Using Jay Maisel as an example is perplexing. He’s a titan from the old guard who earned so much money shooting ads that he bought a bank to house his archive and production offices. He also password-protects his website, and seems, from what I can tell, to be holding on very tightly to a paradigm that is slipping away. Yes, I have loved a lot of his work, especially his relationship use of the color red.

    But what this comes down to — and keeps coming down to — is that we all have to make the best work we can, and if it crosses any serious lines, be prepared to back up the merit of our intent and final product, and be prepared to fight for it too.

    I can’t say I’m worried about Richard Prince or Jeff Koons or anyone else doing something with his or her art that will somehow cut in to how much money I make shooting for a Neiman Marcus or a Cisco Systems or a Rolling Stone.

    Are you?

  70. Warmdriver, I think, has some salient points, but its easy to over do the analyzing. I am reminded of the English movie from the 60’s, “The Rebel” with Tony Hancock.
    I do have a hard time understanding why a copy (for this is really what it is) of a photograph should command such a high price. I realize that its a very limited edition, but doesn’t that mean that the buyer is paying for the artist rather than the content in this particular situation? And, does that not reduce the art to just a commodity? Sam Abell is at least original.

  71. Re: “in the end it’s a concept we all use… to some degree”…

    Actually, no it’s not. If we take a picture of a street scene and there happen to be logos on the tshirts or a billboard in the background then, sure that is a _part_ of the photograph, but if the logo, billboard or other intellectual property is the ONLY element in the photograph, and there’s effectively no interpretation involved, then it’s the same photograph. That’s the point of #3 on the list of “fair use” criteria. Even Misrach’s Playboy images had more interpretation and added meaning than Prince’s “work” thanks to the bullet holes. Prince’s work lacks a level of formal interpretation. Sure you can justify it by saying the concept is the point, but in the end, the object is the same thing and it essentially amounts to intellectual masturbation.

    It’s really just a bullshit way for the art world to place importance on an image in a way that’s palatable for them (see above: intellectual masturbation) – for them to thumb their nose at photographers like Abell and Krantz and to feel superior about their supposed “world view”. It’s not about “collecting as art” because any curator out there would deign to ever show a “collection” of similar work as “art”, but would rather show it much in the same way as an anthropological curiousity; like a shrunken head or an animal skull from the latest safari deep in the jungle of The Congo. I can practically see them wearing their pith helmets, sipping brandy and regaling each other with their feats of heroism. It’s based on an outdated victorian paradigm of “the other”.

    More contemporarily, it’s a lot like the kids on the LES who wear their hair in “ironic” mullets. They still look like assholes, as much as their predecessors in the 80s looked like assholes too. Although they’re pretending they are doing it with a cool, aloof sense of ironic savvy, deep down inside they know it looks ridiculous, but they just run with the pack and go on looking idiotic rather than doing something truly original.

    It’s a simple case of “the king has no clothes”. Prince is selling his invisible robes and making a huge bundle and Nancy Spector and the rest of the art world illuminati are eating it up and swooning over his nonexistent finery because they’re too far in. They’ve already declared him the “most innovative” artist of his generation, so to do anything other than uphold that status would draw into question their own aptitude, qualification and intelligence.

    As a result, we end up with $9.50 posters of a Krantz photo with Prince’s name on it. Go figure.

  72. I wouldn’t know what it’s like to have millions of dollars to spend on art, but I’ve heard it feels pretty good. I don’t judge the people doing it. And I try not to let the preoccupations of people with means I can’t fathom (even though I like to think I can) diminish my experience of art. When loaned out to galleries and museums, it’s readily available to all of us. Anyway, Prince didn’t set these prices, and while everyone talks a lot about his ideas, he’s a fairly unpretentious guy with a very entertaining sensibility.

    Speaking of people who’ve made a ton of cash, Sam Abell’s Marlboro imagery may be the greatest advertising photography of the modern era. I’m a fan of his vision, and the lasting iconic power of this work. In fact his work was so powerful, I bet it may be among the few instances where a photographer’s negative impact on a harrowing public health crisis, and the national tax-payer cost for addressing it, is actually quantifiable.

    Once you enter that arena, maybe you do become fair game.

  73. @75 – at the end you got to the issue;

    “I can’t say I’m worried about Richard Prince or Jeff Koons or anyone else doing something with his or her art that will somehow cut in to how much money I make shooting for a Neiman Marcus or a Cisco Systems or a Rolling Stone.

    Are you?”

    If I own the copyright to the photograph the answer is YES! I care. If someone else owns all rights to the image that is up to them. That’s the point.

    Let’s use your point, Cisco purchases a stock image of yours. They purchase North Amer. rights for a full page mag. ad less than 1 million in circulation. RP rephotos a portion of your photograph from the ad and starts selling it. You didn’t give up your fine art sales rights. So you own the rights. You’re telling me you wouldn’t care? He gets millions you get nothing?

  74. I’d care if you did it. I’d care if APE did it. I and I cared when a record company (sort of) did it, and pocketed a not unsubstantial settlement. Now if Richard Prince did it, I’d probably enjoy a greater audience for my (sometimes inexcusably endless) posts than I ever would’ve achieved on my own. That could be a fantastic platform from which to launch an ever-more successful and meaningful career. Then again, maybe not. I’ve never claimed that being the victim of plagiarism is a … good thing.

    But Sam Abell has way greater mainstream name-recognition because of Richard Prince. Abell is a fantastic photographer and an erudite thinker and speaker. Lets see what he does with his elevated visibility in the mainstream media. I believe that doing what’s necessary to take care of one’s loved ones trumps pretty much everything else. But I have to say that coming from a man who has chosen to do business with the tobacco industry, his Golden Rule argument seems a bit … conspicuous.

    I’m out for the evening. Thanks for all the interesting debate and viewpoints. And thanks, APE.

  75. @76 – Art in the “art” world is a commodity. Richard Prince’s art is also a commodity. Art collectors who pay millions don’t buy pretty art, they make an “investment” in a commodity. It’s only a valuable commodity because the right people say so. If any of the other 99% of photographers had made the same images, no one would even know they existed.

  76. Just a short note for all those who hate Prince’s work: you DO understand that the more there is buzz the higher the prices go? All the criticism goes straight to Rick’s back pocket. THAT’s how the art community works. It’s not about how “good” or “original” your “work” is, but how well people know your name. This is a workbook example of how all publicity is good publicity.
    Remember: even the work of a forger may become valuable if the forger gains name.

  77. Rob – I always thought that you were a smart guy, but you blew it on this one. The Emporer has no clothes and you fell for it.

  78. The guggenheim fell for it. I made no comment on the quality of the work only that unless you shoot nudes in a studio or empty landscapes for a living your work more likely than not benefits from the ability to incorporate copyrighted material into the picture. Richard Prince take that idea to it’s natural conclusion.

    It’s also apparent to me that the art community would enjoy nothing better than hanging pictures of cowboys and horses on their walls. They just need a way they find acceptable to accomplish that.

  79. @80: Abell was an accomplished photographer well before Prince infringed upon his copyright. He had a solo show at I.C.P. in 1990.

    @82: Ha ha. Sure glad I bought that Prince print early on before he blew up. Buzz away. ;) Always invest in the competition I guess.

  80. sigh…yes, I admit I could learn something from Prince, but there is also no way in heck that I can admire someone who’s made millions of dollars by making, technically-speaking, altered copiess of someone else’s photos. It’s just frigging silly.

  81. All the vitriol toward Rob is … perplexing. Whatever any of us feel about Richard Prince, there is no denying that the very notion of copyright is evolving, and anyone who makes pictures will be effected. Circling the wagons and hiding, in hopes of protecting our precious, one-of-a-kind (or usually NOT) creations won’t cut it. Musicians have been dealing with this for years already, and ultimately, audiences are benefitting, however uncomfortable the paradigm shift is for the artist. I’m not exactly sure what Rob hoped for or expected from his Prince commentary, but I would say one hundred responses to his post indicates it’s been a success.

  82. Photography has gone to shits. This is prime example.

  83. @80 warmdriver,

    I should tell you there is a flaw in your understanding of copyright law.

    Let’s say Koons copies something of yours, RP does also. You are aware that Koons and RP has violated your copyright. However, as you feel this exposure is going to help you, you decide not to defend your copyright. Seeing this, I go out and in a similar way as Koons and RP I violate your copyright. Because you previously knew and didn’t defend your rights it will be much harder for you to stop me.

    I’ve got to get back to real work but this has been fun.


  84. “emulation” is different than “copying”. Artists have been doing both since art was invented. Sean Combs is the best example in the music world of someone making a pretty good living off the talent of others. Prince is perhaps the best example in the photo world. Post modernists believed, essentially, nothing was sacred and everything was art.

    I think Richard Prince’s “art” is crap, not original, does not make a statement (unless it’s rigorously explained and even then there’s a fair amount of head scratching). But he’s obviously studied very carefully the techniques and methods of P.T. Barnum and has himself at least 2 suckers.

    I’m heading off to the bookstore to photograph some covers for my next art exhibit. Only 2 prints, please. Better odds than a lottery ticket?

  85. Ah, the inspiration of Sam Abell vs. Richard Prince. Who would I want to learn from is what I’ve asked reading the comments of late. I have sat at the bottom of Grand Canyon on a river trip leafing through Sam’s book, STAY THIS MOMENT, a gift from my dad to spur me on in my own work. I have read through the posts and looked at Richard’s work and I can’t wrap my brain around it; they’re still Sam’s vision. At the essence of the image is the vision, and the moment Sam felt and caught and gave to us-which I believe is one of the greatest gifts of photography.

    I guess I don’t buy the right to outright copy other people’s work; I believe in being inspired, but not appropriation. So Prince makes bank but Sam gave us the gift of his moment. Whose work fuels us to create and for what purpose? what intention? Art? Money? Inspiration? A record of a place in time? If I had the choice I’d rather have tea with Sam’s or a sit down with a book of his work. Sam’s work makes me want to go out into the world and SEE it anew.

    “But there is more to a fine photograph than information. We are also seeking to present an image that arouses the curiosity of the viewer or that, best of all, provokes the viewer to think–to ask a question or simply to gaze in thoughtful wonder. We know that photographs inform people. We also know that photographs move people. The photograph that does both is the one we want to see and make. It is the kind of picture that makes you want to pick up your own camera again and go to work. – Sam Abell, Seeing and Shooting Straight by Sam Abell

  86. @39
    Photographing a building is not building the same building and then selling it. So I would assume everyone agrees that someone building the exact same building then selling it is a huge issue. so what’s the difference if you photograph a photograph.

    Something to think about. What if someone goes and photographs the Mona Lisa, or Malevich’s Black Square, or Manet’s Olympia (a piece that has been imitated by artists forever.) Then turns around and sells it? I guess people do, it’s called posters or art 101 books. I guess my problem is this is nothing new. So why has it sold for so much money? Personally, I will never make that amount of money ever if i save and work everyday of my life without spending a penny. (Newspapers) So maybe I’m an outsider. Maybe the wine I drink isn’t good enough. So for that, I say these people can have their fucking fictitious world and if this makes them happy and able to ramble on about how it makes their nipples hard interpreting some thing, then by all means, go for it. So I guess Prince won the shouting match. Because he’s not the first one to photograph a photograph. That’s not my main issue.

    I think photography has a hard time progressing when we judge it on a person’s name and not the content of the photograph. And with name inherently comes style. I know I know, this goes against everything in the world that defines a photographer as being unique and sticking out in a crowd.

    You know when you say something, like a joke, and maybe not everyone heard it, but then some ass hole who did hear it takes it as his/her own and repeats it so that other people can hear and gets the credit. I feel like this is sort of similar. And that one guy, who originally said the joke would probably be classified in the 99.99999% of the people who are imitators while the asshole makes the cut.

    If someone blows themself up, it has an impact too. But it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the “right” thing to do. I guess it’s based on perspective and the question of right and wrong.

    Does the guy on the horse have to sign a model release?

    Everything comes from something else, duh. To say that 99.999999 percent of the people on here are mere imitators completely undermines the argument of art itself. All artists, even the most famous have imitated another person. I’m sure a lot of amazing photographers in the world will go unnoticed because of financial, personal, or other reasons out of one’s control. That whole thing on insignificant people is bullshit. Everyone has a story and everyone is significant.

  87. It doesn’t matter if you’re balancing a clown on meth upside down while tip-toeing across a river of scorpions covered in pickle juice while photographing a bird taking a shit on the back of a camel, all while in a desert with mind-frying temperatures coming from the two fat men who have strapped you to their bellies. If the photo sucks, it sucks. so what is the difference. it’s the end result that counts, right? so everything else aside, Prince essentially did nothing more than taking a digital file, right-clicking, hitting copy as, printing it, and getting cash.

    it’s a sad world, and this is not at all surprising.

  88. so. DAP used the image on the front of their magazine. Can someone explain how this is stopping anyone (besides the fact that they’re not assholes) like Nat Geo, Time, GQ, Comm Art…any publication…from seeing an image in a book somewhere. Wanting it on the cover. Shooting it and running it with no credit and no pay. I think it’s hard enough for photographers to make money now and for someone to dabble in it and then jump out “stealing” what pride and ethics we have, is smart, ridiculous, offensive and basically just fucked up. But i guess it’s what you can get for yourself and who gives a fuck about who you step on or hurt on the way. Welcome to human nature.

  89. @94 Actually I don’t think it’s about that at all. If anything, Richard Prince is a symptom, not a cause, but no one I’ve read here or elsewhere has articulated a clear connection between what Prince has done and the difficulty that many photographers have making money. His actions might forecast some kind of copyright dark age, but it seems like this kind of thing is relatively rare.

    @91 Since I don’t have to choose, it’s nice that we can own and live with monographs from both Abell and Prince. If I did have to choose, it’d probably be Abell, but I can’t say for sure.

  90. […] Prince and sold for record prices at Sotheby’s. See APE’s discussion about it all here) comes at the very end of the video. To give you some context, PDN explains: Prince has […]

  91. Rob,

    Only in early 2000’s could someone concoct the warped notion, that by stealing someone’s intellectual property, regardless of whether or not the thief profits from it, that we should be overjoyed that he stole from someone. His illegal act allows us as photographers to do what we do every day…??? Really?…Really? What wonderful twisted logic.

    The fact is Rob, if I photograph you for an ad I need to get your release. Now lets say we do that and then someone rephotographs our image and places it on a web site instead of a museum wall and writes a piece that elaborately convicts you of being a child molester. Why, I can hear you cheering from here.

    Look dimwit, by your warped logic, we all should be able to photograph paper money and reproduce it at will. Try it…I’ll visit you in Leavenworth and see how thrilled you are.

    Put the pipe down dude…it’s really screwing up your thought process.

  92. PS to my last post…

    Anyone that thinks of or describes Prince as an artist really needs to rethink that. Is he an artist? Really? Really?

    If Prince is an artist, than so is any monkey at the local zoo that mimics a patron waving at said monkey. At least the monkey has integrity as an artist…he didn’t steal anything that was legally protected by copyright!

    But by you definition Rob, he’s every bit the artist you are….and he’s probably more intelligent.

  93. Sad discussion to have to have. The blatant ripping off of someone else’s work just because one can legally get away with it is beyond pathetic. There is no respect to be had here. Money does not legitimize theft, and this is clearly theft. Ridiculous.

    – CJ

  94. First time I post here, by the way, I’m not afraid to use my real name.

    Oh, oh, It’s so easy to bash under the mantle of anonimity.

    My two cents on this discussion:

    First of all, the american cowboy is not property of Sam Abell or Marlboro or Phillip Morris, or Richard Prince. It’s a popular icon. It’s nobody’s property. Once you have somebody paying for a crew to scout a location, cast a model, choose the clothing, lug your photo equipment, art direct the whole thing and pay for a nice dinner to celebrate the wrap, photographing guy on a yellow raincoat riding a horse through a valley doesn’t make you a hero, especially if the whole thing is orchestrated to get more people to smoke their asses off to death.

    Second of all, it’s not like Richard Prince woke up one day and said: I’m going to make millions duping advertisements. His career started just like all of us, some initial motivation, going to college, struggling to get started etc. Initially this pictures were not even looked at, nobody wanted them. Also, back then there was no Internet, Napster etc, and people were not as conscious about copyright infringement as we are today. Didn’t we all record cassettes from friends’ records? My self, I once charged my neighbors a small fee to watch a movie on Betamax. So calling the guy a thief is a little bit exaggerated.

    Sam Abell spend a lot of time taking the pictures and made his buck “selling” to Marlboro the american cowboy so they could persuade people to kill themselves, Richard Prince also spend a lot of time sifting through those tearsheats at Time Warner where he worked to pay the bills and is now making his buck selling his large prints to decorate the mansions of the people who make money out of convincing other people to kill themselves, among other enterprises.

    It’s call capitalism, and we’re all part of it.

    So let’s take it easy.

  95. Camillio,

    All that wonderful writing…and yet you miss the point. The argument about the concept of owning the American cowboy is irrelevant and not the point of contention.
    The point is simply who owns your images…you or someone else who would reproduce them and make money from them. The answer has already been established by Congress and many court cases. The answer is you own your photographs unless you sell the rights….the concept is called intellectual property.

  96. @99 “First of all, the American cowboy is not property of Sam Abell or Marlboro or Phillip Morris, or Richard Prince. It’s a popular icon.”

    While “the” cowboy may be iconic, that is not what is at issue here. The issue here is appropriation (theft) of something belonging to someone else. In this case, it was not the photographer – it had always been a policy of Marlboro and its parent company to procure the copyright to the images created for their campaigns. There was no way Marlboro was going to see Richard Prince’s work as a problem. They couldn’t pay for the amount of publicity generated.

    “Also, back then there was no Internet, Napster etc, and people were not as conscious about copyright infringement as we are today.”

    Actually, they were – dating all the way back to our very prescient founding fathers who first created the laws. While it is likely the general public was uneducated about copyright (they still are), I would bet Richard Prince knew exactly what he was doing.

    “Richard Prince also spend a lot of time sifting through those tearsheats at Time Warner where he worked to pay the bills and is now making his buck selling his large prints to decorate the mansions of the people who make money out of convincing other people to kill themselves, among other enterprises.”

    This has to be the worst, but the most amusing argument I’ve ever heard in favor of infringement.

  97. Richard Prince and Larry Gagosian Slapped with Suit

    ABOUT TIME !!!!!!

  98. I disagree with Spector’s assertion that Prince’s work is “among the most innovative art produced in the United States during the past 30 years.” To agree with that would be to agree that he is doing something new. People have produced amazing copies of great works of art for centuries, some copies produced by the artists themselves. He may be using a camera instead of a paintbrush, but if that’s the only “innovation,” I’d hardly say his work was among the most innovative.

    I also disagree that “The value of a Richard Prince re-photograph has nothing to do with what’s depicted in the photograph.” To quote Prince himself, “But at Time-Life, I was working with seven or eight magazines, and Marlboro had ads in almost all of them. Every week, I’d see one and be like, ‘Oh, that’s mine. Thank you.’ It’s sort of like beachcombing.” [1] Uh… no, it’s not. Beach combing is making a living by “collecting salable articles of jetsam, refuse, etc., from beaches.” [2] Jetsam, refuse and the like are things no one wants, discarded items; as in “one man’s trash.” Those famous images are not generally considered refuse. Also, referring to the images he’d find weekly, how were they “his?” Did he hire Jim Krantz and the other photographers to take those photos for him? No. Did he own any of the copyrights? No. Did he even own the magazines from which he shot them? No. So what about them made them his? Granted, Krantz does not own the copyrights either, but Prince did not credit him, and apparently does not credit other original photographers either. The value of his images would be nothing without the original value of the original image. He didn’t chose mundane or poorly shot photographs, he chose images he knew would strike a chord in viewers, a chord that was originally struck by other talented photographers. While I agree we should have the right to re-photograph images, I do not believe that we should do so without at least crediting the original photographer. Just because we have the right to do so doesn’t mean that we are justified in being rude. He may not find it offensive that others appropriate HIS so-called art, but there are those of us who put a lot of work into capturing timeless images, and whether we retain the copyrights to them or not, at least deserve credit for them when someone profits by copying them, especially without prior consent.

    [1] Rosenburg, Karen. “Artist: Richard Prince.” May 21st, 2005. New York Art. Sept. 25th, 2009.
    [2] “beachcombers.” Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 25 Sep. 2009. .

    • Addendum:

      It would appear that we’re not allowed to post links in our comments, so my citations are incomplete. To access the link containing the article I referenced first, type “Q&A with Appropriation Artist Richard Prince” in the search engine of your choice. The definition of beachcombers was found at Dictionary.com.

  99. […] credit where due… For much more brilliant conversations on appropriation art, click here and here… google more and inform yourself… come to your own conclusion. Dustin’s […]

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