Thursday, February 26, 2009

Shepard Fairey + Manny Garcia + Terry Gross

An interesting interview today on Fresh Air with Shepard Fairey and Mannie Garcia regarding the now famous Obama portrait. It raises all kinds of interesting and complicated questions about the ever popular “appropriation” of source material for art and the appropriate attribution and compensation.

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.

This case is a more difficult call for me and I have a leg on both sides of the fence, but leaning to Garcia. Fairey’s point of view is that he significantly changed the image and it’s purpose from a news reportage image to a political statement. But I agree with Garcia, that the image was his and he should have had the right to decide whether to allow it’s use. To bad Fairey couldn’t have done some legwork and tracked down Garcia prior to all this. Then again, Garcia may have denied him the rights and we would have never seen that iconic image. Tough call.

This isn't Fairey's first time being criticized for appropriating artwork and his defense claiming he uses proceeds to promote social causes rings a bit hollow because it also promotes Fairey in the process.

The sadder part of the interview came when Garcia was discussing his own dispute with AP regarding whether he as a free-lancer with no signed contract, was in fact “employed” by the AP. AP is claiming all his images were works made for hire and therefore the property of the AP. But if he was a free-lancer, not an employee, meaning not on salary with full benefits, etc. and had not signed a contract granting such rights, then all works should remain Garcia’s property. I hope he wins that one.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I met Mikah while volunteering for the Do1Thing project. She’s just turned 20 and is currently living at Bridge House in Portland, right in my neighborhood. Here are few details from her past:
Her father abandoned the family when she was an infant. At 14 she was placed in foster care because of her Mother’s drug addiction. At 17 she ran away to Las Vegas where she lived on the streets, slingin dope, stealing and using meth. Pregnant at 18 she was forced to surrender her parental rights. About 14 months ago she found out she was pregnant again. Hoping to avoid repeating her past mistakes and give this baby a chance she knew she had to get clean. She and her boyfriend went to live in Mexico with her boyfriend’s parents and kicked. About 7 months ago she returned to Portland Oregon where she couch surfed, slept on friend’s floors and eventually got into Bridge House.
Jordan is now 5 months old, chubby and bright eyed. Mikah attends AA meetings with her Mother and is working towards getting her GED. She hopes to get some education, a decent job and be a good mother to her son, hopefully earn back some parental rights to her now 2 year old daughter.
There were a few consistent themes that ran in the stories of the kids I met and spoke to while working on Do1Thing, primarily drug addicted parents, the foster care system and methamphetamine. If I learned nothing else it was that the best contribution to society I can ever make is to be a good parent to my own kids.
Mikah wants that for Jordan. The odds are stacked steeply against her. I hope she makes it, for her and Jordan’s sake.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

2009 Louisville Photo Biennial

This summer the Louisville Photo Biennial will be taking place between June 1 and July 31. The theme this year is "The Center for Photographic Studies" which happens to be where I attended my very first year of photography school. The Center, founded in 1970 by C.J. Pressma, was an alternative school for creative photography and it's impact on my career was monumental. The school had two galleries which showed work by important artists, such as Ansel Adams, Minor White, Henry Holmes Smith, Ralph Eugene Meatyard and many more. The Center also had a regular stream of visiting lecturers such as Russell Lee, Duane Michals, Les Krims and W. Eugene Smith. A. D. Coleman would come around from time to time. One of my most vivid memories was of smoking a joint with Eugene Smith and then taking him out for White Castle hamburgers at midnight in my old jalopy car. I had no idea just how cool that was at the time, I was so naive.
I received a query for material a couple of months ago and while digging through very old negatives and contact sheets I came across some of the first portraits I ever made, a series of fellow students shot in 1976. Using a borrowed Rollei, they were mostly made in the 4th floor loft of the school building under the skylight with natural light. Sadly the ravages of time on my memory have left me unable to name but a couple of these folks, (after all it was 32 years ago) but I remember the shoots and remember many things about each of them. If my luck plays out I will be able to attend the reunion scheduled for this summer and maybe pass on a copy to them all.