Krantz CowboyJust over 2 years ago a story ran in the New York Times that asked the question: “If the Copy Is an Artwork, Then What’s the Original? (here)” The original they were referring to belonged to Jim Krantz and the story went on to explain that Jim had recently paid a visit to the Guggenheim Museum where he discovered one of his photographs included in a retrospective of artist Richard Prince’s work. Most photographers by now are aware of Prince and his practice of using other peoples photographs to make his art and we’ve debated various aspects of the practice including the pending lawsuit by photographer Patrick Cariou (here). What caught my eye recently was that Krantz, a long time artist (here) as well as a big time commercial photographer is starting to get some recognition from the fickle fashion and art communities for his work. His statement in the New York Times article that, “I just want some recognition, and I want some understanding” may be coming true. He’s now represented by Danziger Projects in New York, he recently shot an advertising campaign based on the cowboy work for designer Adam Kimmel (here) and has a show hanging at the Colette in Paris that opened Monday (here). I gave him a call to discuss:

APE: In the time since that article came out about Richard Price using your photography how have things changed for you?

There’s been an awful lot of recognition of my work. So much of the time I work in a vacuum. The work that I produce for my commercial accounts is unconnected from my name. In fact the ad in itself is a very different interpretation from the work I create.

APE: Hasn’t that always been the case with advertising photography?

With tobacco in particular there’s even more of a disconnect because you can’t enter the work in CA or any photo contests. So, you’re really, really in a vacuum.


APE: Do you feel like what happened with Richard Prince changed peoples opinion about your work or brought it more recognition?

The general consensus from over 200 emails that I’ve gotten since that article ran is very negative and people were actually pissed off as far as what he’s done and how he goes about his business. There’s a fine line between appropriation and plagiarism. A lot of the people who write me are photographers and artists and they feel vulnerable to this because they project themselves into the situation I find myself in.

In general I’m not happy about it and artists are not happy about it. Now, if you go talk to a gallerist about it they will look at it as American iconography and describe him as a collector of images. I kind of understand if you take the whole Ad with the Marlboro words with the copy, the header and the cigarette pack stripped out. As opposed to what he’s doing which is stripping all the copy away so you have the photograph in its purest form. That’s a very different thing because at that point it’s not an Ad, which is a departure from what I’ve done, it’s literally exactly what I’ve done. The context is everything. And in the context with all the copy and everything else my work creates a new entity in itself. When he eliminates all of that, it goes back to the core image, which is mine, so yeah I don’t see this as really being a photograph of an advertisement. It’s really just the purest form of the art out of context. That’s exactly how I shoot it, I’m not thinking about cigarettes, I’m not thinking about anything more than fantastic art.

APE: Don’t you think that you have to be Richard Prince to pull it off. He’s dedicated his life to this practice. A lot of people react by saying anyone can do this, but it’s all wrapped up in him.

Yeah, I think you’re right but I think a lot of people take a lot of things all the time because everything is so accessible. I’ll bet there’s a lot of crazy things that take place that we don’t know about. I can’t imagine it, but it’s so accessible you know, why not. People do bad things all the time.

APE: How has it evolved for you from seeing it in the Guggenheim to now where you’re represented by James Danziger in NYC, you shot an advertising campaign for Adam Kimmel based on the cowboy work and you have an opening at the Colette in Paris this week?

What its done is its really illuminated my work and given me the opportunity to take it outside of the advertising world and into the fashion and art world right now. In the last month I’ve been in the New York Times twice, Wallpaper magazine coming up, Bon magazine in Europe, a feature in CA, Arena Hommes Plus, Hercules Magazine in Europe, French Vogue and German GQ.

So the recognition you were seeking for the work happened?

Jim Krantz and Ansel Adams
Krantz and Adams

The recognition has been fantastic and the source for all of this is the article in the New York Times and it’s funny because I’ve been doing this since I was 19 when I took a photography workshop from Ansel Adams at his house and all these guys were hanging out there like Brett Weston and Jerry Uselman. I’ve been shooting fine art my entire career.

APE: But, that’s the irony isn’t it. Someone steals a photograph and suddenly your work is important to the art community. That’s what it took.

It’s amazing to me that the curators at the Guggenheim would bring this work in without acknowledging the source or giving the viewers the opportunity to see what motivates and inspires a person. You need a footnote in a paper but there’s no source recognized here.

APE: I think that is something that’s changing with the web. There’s suddenly more transparency whether you want it or not. People want to dig down and figure out what inspired something or reveal things that aren’t attributed properly.

This is a very fascinating phenomenon and where did anything originate is a big question.

APE: So, what are you feelings towards Richard Prince now that there’s been some form of attribution?

The recognition has been great because it’s fairly impossible with all the millions and millions of images out there to get recognized for anything now days.

But I still to this day don’t understand what he did. Put yourself in my shoes walking down the street and you see the photograph that I shot in Albany, TX in 1990 of a cowboy with his arms stretched out on those on banners wondering why are my pictures there. It’s bizarre man. So, do I understand it? No. And when I went in and saw the posters for the Richard Prince show with my photograph, I don’t understand that either.

APE: Yeah, I can’t imagine that. I won’t pretend to.

It’s not original and it’s not art. I still don’t understand it and I don’t see the significance of it no matter what.

It’s ballsy as hell, I’ll give him that.


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  1. Its about time. Your work is wonderful Jim!!

  2. So, is there a check in the mail to Richard Prince?

    In all seriousness, the whole episode was a viral marketing coup – you can’t pay for that kind of publicity. The fact that the image was blatantly stolen just took it to the next level because it hit this sweet spot of crime, art world ridiculousness, ad photography, and money. Whatever works, I guess. In the end it’s good to see Jim getting his recognition.

    • @Mason, Well said. However we still need to hold people to account.

  3. Jim is the true original and Prince is well………….! I’m not sure if Prince took it to the next level!

  4. National Geographic photographer Sam Abell had is photograph copied by Richard Prince as well. Sam talks about the “Golden Rule” in photography, not blatantly coping some other photographers photograph. It wouldn’t occur to him, and I suspect most other photographers worth their salt to simply copy another photographers work. Sam said it best when he said; He (Prince) can live with it…Being able to break the golden rule. You only have to look at Krantz and Abell’s work to see who the true artist is.

    • @Todd Korol, thanks for sending Todd. Sam’s words were very true.

    • @Todd Korol, Well said, Todd. Krantz’ work didn’t need to be taken to another level. It stands on its own very, very well. Richard Prince isn’t even original. Jeff Koons has been using other people’s work forever.

  5. Don’t get me wrong, I can be seen frothing when discussing fine art and Prince in the same arena. That said, it does give some fuel to proponents if you begin to witness any advantage Jim gains without even a nod from Prince say nothing of cash.

    I’ve admired Jim’s work since a friend of mine attended Main Photo Workshops with him back in the 80’s – I think it was the 80’s.

  6. The only art Richard Prince practices is the fine arts of hype and deception. If he was a college art student doing this, then his professors would likely be failing him.

  7. Let’s see, Kranz made a living by being complicit in the tobacco-related deaths of millions of people. Prince made a living by ripping off Kranz.

    Who’s the bigger asshole here?

      • @A Photo Editor,

        So you apparently believe that people who whore themselves out to tobacco companies have any moral culpability for their actions?

        Okey dokey. I’ll let you get back to the important issue of insuring that “artists” get credit for their work.

        • typo, question should have been:

          So you apparently believe that people who whore themselves out to tobacco companies _don’t_ have any moral culpability for their actions?

          • Come on, don’t be such a hypocrite, I am sure you have skeletons hanging in your closet that you don’t want anyone to see. We all do, it just so happens that Jim worked with the ad agencies that promoted tobacco and in your opinion, since you can see his hanging outside, are just as bad as Princes’ stealing. Try again. I don’t think so, this is the dilemma; would you want me using your name for an unspecified period of time to earn a living, establish credit and credibility, become renowned at your expense? IMHO I don’t think so!

        • @tde,
          I like to stay focused on the business of photography. I really don’t care what you think about tobacco companies. OK.

        • @tde,

          Give me a friggin’ break.

          You are free to decline work for specific clients on moral grounds – that’s your prerogative – but get off your moral high horse and allow other professionals their prerogative as well. Not everybody is blessed with the same unassailable moral inviolability you apparently have, are they?

          One could just as easily level the same criticism at car photographers who shoot cars which kill people (ie: Toyotas with defective floor mats, or see this article from today’s times: or photographers who shoot for McDonald’s (poor eating and obesity is more pervasive, kills more people in the US, and is more costly to the public than smoking), photographers who shoot for companies which destroy clothing rather than donate it to the homeless ( – H&M and Wal-Mart aren’t the only companies with this practice. It’s business as usual in the fashion industry), or photographers who shoot for pretty much any government engaged in war (Leni Riefenstahl got a bad rap for it, why aren’t the “embedded” journalists who are complicit with the US government’s censorship getting the same negative attention?).

          The moral offenses are myriad when you look for them. There’s an old saying about casting the first stone, isn’t there?

          • @dude, wow, someone who has a clarity! Very well put. I guess the photo industry should have a MORAL Board and some of these folks should chair it. Its a flipping joke. On another note. Back to Prince, that is what this blog was about…….right. Sam Abell’s comments are so well put. He is sort of the elder statesman of artful editorial photography. I love his work and his comments……………….next!

    • @tde,

      I guess you haven’t sold out yet. Good luck with that.

    • @tde, Leni Riefenstahl is no less an artist for her propagandistic films. As abhorrent as the tobacco industries practices are, they are a legal enterprise – not to mention with a long history dating back to the founding of this country (perhaps that is what Prince’s ‘iconography’ is addressing). The issue here is not about tobacco.

  8. Thanks for this interview, it’s nice to hear Jim Krantz’s comments. Quoting from my own blog post from last February, written in response to the Shepard Fairey debate:

    I’ve always been of the opinion that if an artist took source material and significantly changed it, such as Rauchenberg’s use of news photographs in his paintings, or Robert Hienecken’s use of advertising in his work, well it seemed fair enough to me. Where I call bullshit is with artists such as Richard Prince or Thomas Ruth who simply reproduce someone else’s art work and I’ve yet to hear an argument compelling enough to change my mind.

  9. This is a bag of mixed emotions. I would find it difficult not be infuriated or apathetic either way with the abduction any work is the quandary. Just as Gordon Moat stated it is quite apparent when you look at a gallery showing of Prince’s that he is not the creator.

    What is due though;

    Jim, congratulations on the showings and promotion of your work. I have been envious of you being able to learn from Ansel Adams in an intimate setting. Kudos and hope this year continues to be exciting, profitable and notable!

    Rob great interview! I don’t think you receive enough acknowledgement for what you bring to the table.

    A thought occurred maybe be I should encourage him(Prince) to steal some of my work. Nah! I don’t want to become notable in that way. I guess it is just a befuddling situation to deal with except the obvious, does Prince acknowledge and pay up? If he were Shepard Fairey, he would be under the scrutiny of attorneys, news outlets and the courts for blatant misappropriation of Jim’s work. I say hang Prince from the yard arm, then draw and quarter him, then the plank with him, Argggggg!

  10. I did have a question, Why has Krantz not pursued a lawsuit against Prince and the Guggenheim for copyright infringement? Or has he? Furthermore, why has Philip Morris not sued Prince and the Guggenheim? Forgive me if I missed this somewhere.

  11. Are we all going play Monday quarterback and scrutinize an artist for work he was hired to do 25 years ago? This body of work is iconic, so much so it brought on imitation. This body of work is in the threads of American culture. And we are going to try and take some moral stand because the specific product has since been proven unhealthy? Do we actually think Krantz had any incling as to the health benefits of this product?

    Krantz’s images are AMAZING! I’m a photographer and I love great images. Let’s not mIss what this interview was about. Sam Abel’s comments were spot on.

    • @Andy Anderson, here, here so right with the your statement! I could agree more! James should be lauded for his work, Who doesn’t remember the Marboro man? I am with you on this!

    • @Andy Anderson, Agreed. We doesn’t include me. Great photography is great photography – period. In my opinion – It’s fine to have contrary opinions but don’t question the man’s motive.

  12. The Adam Kimmel campaign is awesome.

    Prince aside (I’m not even going to waste my energy on him), many people in the industry would have commissioned the latest photographer-du-jour to mimick (um, I mean “use as inspiration”, in industry parlance) the Marlboro ads, but Adam had the vision to go for authenticity.

    Kudos to Adam for this as well as to Jim.

  13. Is there any info anywhere on ppl speaking out in defense of R. Prince? I don’t see his side of the argument at all and haven’t any idea why he hasn’t been sued into homelessness.

    • @Kenneth,

      I’d argue that Prince has a pretty good case for fair use in this situation. As you’ve all pointed out, he strips away the original copy, crops, changes the context, and both makes a commentary and levies criticism while appropriating.

      • Also, and without knowing the specifics of Krantz’s contracts, Krantz may not be able to sue Prince. More likely than not the images Krantz made were probably done as work for hire, and he may have failed to retain the copyright to them.

    • @Kenneth,
      Fair use can only be decided by a judge and Phillip Morris has the copyright to the image in question.

      • @A Photo Editor,

        Exactly, so Krantz really has no stand to take.

        • @MSK, does that make it right or moral? doubtful!

          • @Andy Anderson,

            But we must also take into consideration the field in which Prince works as well as his intended audience. In the “A”rt world appropriation is a common practice that many artists engage in.

            It could be argued that a work that utilizes an appropriated image is simply a response to the original, and in that response the original is quoted.

            • @MSK, I wonder how Prince would feel if his work was stolen….ooops!…..meant appropriated.

      • @A Photo Editor, (really just a reply in general)
        By this argument i could theoretically scan images of supermodel breasts from W, Vanity Fair and Vogue, crop them to taste and somehow deny authorship to the imagemaker? Sounds a lot easier than figuring out what the actual creative, skilled craftsman did to be awesome and making a similar equally iconic image.

        So Krantz doesn’t hold his copyright. How many others do? This sh*tbird is getting rich from stealing images and cropping them. Perhaps i’m just jealous because i haven’t come up with an equally outrageous scam…

    • @Kenneth, I’ll bite since I saw Richard Prince’s appropriated images at the SFMOMA this morning.

      You could make the argument that Richard Prince’s images are more honest than the original ad. He presents them as what they are – appropriated images. The ad is staged and uses model to basically sell death. The irony of a stolen image being more “honest” than the original is certainly part of what Prince’s work is about.

      (I personally feel conflicted about Prince’s work, because on one hand his ethics are questionable and he is pretty blatantly stealing, but on the other he’s creating a legitimately interesting dialogue about appropriation/advertising/authorship/etc. I think the reason you won’t see him defended here is because it hits a little too close to home – I doubt most of the people here calling for him to be sued into oblivion feel the same way about Warhol, Rauschenberg, or any of the other artists who appropriate the work of others.)

      • @Brad Wenner, creating a dialog is one thing, getting rich off of it (with no benefits to the originator – or anti-tobacco organizations for that matter) another

        • @Matt Dinerstein, I agree with you Matt. It just goes to show you how absurd the whole Art Industry has become. People buying a copy stand image of an ad that ran 25 plus years ago,, and no reference to the photographer. Its a joke..

  14. Furhermore, any of you “unknowns” if you are going to Monday quarterback don’t hide behind your alias.

    • @Andy Anderson,
      I wholeheartedly agree.

  15. Yup, get out the foxhole and get in the mix.

  16. Would Prince’s appropriation be considered “Fluxus”?

  17. No, I would call it a flagrant ripoff. There is nothing original about Prince’s work other than the original photography.

  18. First of all, quit calling it appropriation. It is STEALING….call it that!! Next, get off the moral high horse about cigarettes, he shot these images 25 plus years ago. You take a position today for something that happened years ago is not apples to apples.
    Quit protecting Prince, he is the real demon and NOT Krantz. I guess none of you liberal’s eat big macs or starbucks frappé’s. But live on some planet called “Nirvana”

    • @Andy Anderson, Sorry but calling Richard Prince’s work is a cop out for understanding what he is doing. Its it stealing when something gets sampled and remixed? Prince is commenting on the larger culture of image making. Its not just fair use Its successful art in my opinion.

      • @harlan erskine, Commentary is not creativity, but it seems to be a lucrative outlet for those who lack originality. If all we could accomplish as artists were commentary based upon the work of others, then art would quickly become irrelevant.

        • @Gordon Moat, I agree with you that commentary doesn’t equate to something that is creative. Commentary is not always lucrative when Prince first created his Cowboy series is wasn’t lucrative. When his work sells at auction unless he is selling it he doesn’t get any kick back from the sale or increase in value over the years.

          Good art has a perspective and Prince effectively communicated something about our culture that still resonates to this day. He has also proved he is more then a one trick pony of an artist and if you take a look at he work you can see he is also a prolific painter and sculptor.

  19. Prince is a thief and Krantz is the victim. It’s Krantz’s choice to shoot what he wants as it’s my choice not work for tobacco companies. Someone else may come to a different decision. That doesn’t necessarily make me morally superior, and it has nothing to do with whether I or the other person is a good photographer. Joel Meyerowitz is a great photographer who also made a lot of money doing what I would call forgettable pictures for cigarette ads. He is still deservedly considered a great photographer. That said, the people criticizing Krantz for shooting tobacco ads aren’t the only ones on a high horse here.

  20. Yeah! And while were at it, here is a short list of other “artists” we should be demonizing for their use of “appropriation”:

    – Leonardo Da Vinci
    – Pablo Picasso
    – Georges Braque
    – Marcel Duchamp
    – Any of those Dadaists or Surrealists
    – Jasper Johns
    – Roy Lichtenstein
    – Andy Warhol
    – Claus Oldenburg
    – Jeff Koons
    – Barbara Kruger

    Oh the list goes on. What a bunch of hacks, seriously.

    • @Byrd, Yeah, I guess its okay until happens to you……doubtful!!

      • @Andy Anderson,

        Ha. Are you insulting me now? Always a sign of a strong arguement, blind and unfounded attacks at those who disagree with you.

        My point was just appropriation, or “STEALING” as you so boldly put it, has a long history in the art world. You don’t hear anyone crying foul that Picasso used a newspaper article of theirs to collage with, or the American government suing Jasper Johns for his use of the American flag.

        At the Met a couple years ago I remember hearing a couple middle-aged, wealthy women digging into to the Prince debate with similar insight: “Ahh, it just STEALING! I don’t get it. He’s a plagiarist!” Ten seconds later they found themselves looking at a photos of the twin towers from 9/11 photographed off a computer screen from news footage. “Now THIS I like!”

    • @Byrd, All Richard Prince has proved is that if you have no morals, a “fuck you” attitude, and a large bankroll, then you can do whatever the fuck you want. That anyone finds that admirable, or is willing to defends that, shows how low the art world has crawled.

    • @Byrd, the Koons comparison I get. He’s an even bigger thief. But did you really just compare Richard Prince to Picasso and DaVinci? The point here is pretty simple, it’s a question of copyright and, ultimately, what is and isn’t Fair Use. Would you be making the same point if it were a photograher “appropriating” the work of another photographer?

  21. Because of Richard Prince, I know who Jim Krantz is. That’s not an insult, just a sign of the times.

    Visual culture is evolving. This is neither the beginning, nor the end of appropriate usage disputes.

  22. I find it’s all hogwash, and to make something out of dismantling an advertisement, he is not in fact arriving at something new at all. The photographs were shot that way to begin with.
    I can see on the subject of ‘is it art?’ how the act of dismantling is the *work* itself, the art if you will, because his perspective is trying to break down that corporate image of marketing etc.

    I think Mr Prince needs to find a new approach to his art that doesn’t involve stealing other’s hard work.

    Yes, some may only know of Krantz through Prince, but those Marlboro ads are pretty famous on their own, Prince just seems to have interfered when it comes to that.
    Maybe if he even bothered to find out who shot those photos and involved them in his art, Krantz may have had the exposure because of it that Prince had.

    from Wiki:

    “The subjects of Prince’s rephotographs are the photos of others. He is merely photographing the works of other photographers, who in the case of the cowboys, had been hired by Marlboro Cigarettes to create images depicting cowboys. Prince describes his process in a 2003 interview with Artforum International Magazine’s Steve Lafreiniere as, “I had limited technical skills regarding the camera. Actually I had no skills. I played the camera. I used a cheap commercial lab to blow up the pictures. I made editions of two. I never went into a darkroom.”[5]

    Prince was a spectator to the imagery of others and decided to approach it in a new manner, interpret it in his own way, while challenging the socially accepted. Prince’s naivety to photography can potentially be accredited with the success of his earth shaking work. Just where do you draw the line as to what is a reflection of inspirational works and what is just down right thievery? But through his thievery he is creating something new, something Richard Prince. At the end of the day he is still dismantling the original, whether it is greatly noticeable or not”

  23. theres a lot of bad things to be said about the art world but contrary to what photographers like to think Richard Prince hardly is one of the bad guys in that part of hell.

  24. I go into the argument (for Richard Prince) a little further in my post “On Originality” here:

    Also, tonight Todd Walker ( and I will be hosting a tweetchat w/ guest David Bram @Dbram of @FractionMag, on influences & originality in photography for our biweekly tweetchat #artphotochat.

    Join in tonight at 9 pm EST.

    These Art Photography chats anyone can join in or just read it live by using the hashtag #photoartchat on Twitter. One easier way to transform twitter into a chat room is and entering the photoartchat room here:

    a previous chat:

  25. I am very happy that this is working for Jim. He is, quite simply, a gentleman about this and deserves major accolades for his work. I have worked with him on two projects and can say he “delivers.”

  26. i do think of which,The condition for dangerous travel related has caused varied criminal court problem in the modern times.

  27. […] pubblico maschile). Il blog “A Photoeditor” ha ripreso l’argomento due anni dopo, approfondendo il rapporto tra l’Autore dell’opera originale e l’artista che si è approriato […]

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