Thursday, October 15, 2009

Another case of Obama imagery ‘plagiarism’?

You remember the whole controversy over Shepard Fairey’s Obama picture. Now there’s another case in which an artist is being accused of stealing editorial imagery without credit.

Noli Novak, one of the artists who creates the distinctive “hedcut” stipple portraits for the Wall Street Journal, has complained on her blog about José-María Cano, a Spanish artist (and musician), who makes large-scale wax paraffin portraits based on the Journal hedcuts, which have earned him, as Novak puts it, “recognition, praise and ka-ching.”

She takes issue with his approach, calling it “a bold case of plagiarism (?)”:

He cuts out portraits from papers, blows them up and painstakingly recreates them in wax paraffin ... dot by dot. He’s flying under the cover of “newspaper clipping” appropriation, but does that apply in this case? I say no way Jose!

Here’s an example of his work. On the left is his Obama picture, from his “Wall Street Journal Wax Museum” series, and on the right is Novak’s original:



And here’s some of that ka-ching, in situ at the Dox Center for Contemporary Art in Prague:


It’s almost exactly the same situation as Fairey: an artist has taken an image from a news source and recontextualized it. In Cano’s case he even clearly revealed its source; by placing the hedcut within columns of type, one could argue, he could be making a more general comment about a public figure’s imprisonment within the narrow bars of the news media. It’s Warhol’s soup cans — nothing new.

Except for two things. First, Cano’s picture — and every one he does has the same schtick — is a careful recreation of a copyrighted image, hardly the abstracted interpretation and “radically different message” that Fairey claimed about his own work.

Second, Novak would have a strong argument for artistic intent. Mannie Garcia, the freelance Associated Press photographer who took the picture that served as Fairey’s source, has said more than once that he captured that shot of Obama simply by shooting in quantity. “I want to avoid calling myself an artistic photographer,” he told Terry Gross. “ ‘Wire guy,’ I am comfortable with that.” But Novak clearly thinks of herself as an artist, even if an artist for hire.

Does she have a case? Better yet, does Rupert Murdoch?

(Via Romenesko.)


UPDATE: Some pretty major Shepard Fairey news, in case you didn’t see it elsewhere:

Shepard Fairey, the artist whose “Hope” poster of Barack Obama became an iconic emblem of the presidential campaign, has admitted that he lied about which photograph from The Associated Press he used as his source, and that he then covered up evidence to substantiate his lie. (NYT)

1 comment:

Robert said...

Cano is by no means trying to hide the source of his image. Though he doesn't explicitly attribute Novak, it's pretty clear that his work is based on a newspaper illustration. Worthy art? Meh. Plagiarism? No.

But from a legal perspective, this is a slam dunk. Regardless of artistic merit, unless proper licenses are in place, Cano owes a debt to Novak, and both of them owe a debt to Garcia.