WHO OWNS THE ART?
Today I received a photo by message from a friend. They had seen a photograph at an exhibition. The photograph won 1st prize in category, and the image was also for sale. The image was sent to me with the question. "I wonder if this was XXX doing this LP [light painting]??".
I immediately recognised the image, and the name of the person (we will call them Photographer X). The photograph was captured at one of my light painting workshops.
It raised a question which to me is obvious. But like so many things with art, it may not be so obvious to all, and the legalities of it are certainly not as clear cut as they first seem. This may even be a controversial subject. But hear me out, and I would be keen to know your thoughts.
HOW WAS THE IMAGE CAPTURED?
At our workshops we have a period of presentation where I deliver a bit of history, theory and inspiration before the workshop attendees spend the night creating the images. We break them into groups of around 5 and we encourage them to rotate through the group taking turns creating the light painting while the others capture the images on their cameras, when it is your turn to be creating, generally others with trigger your camera.
We work with each attendee to make changes to their camera setting so that they can learn how those changes effect the final image. By the nature of the process each attendee goes home with a huge number of images that include light painting images that they did not "create".
This photographer had other people either side of them capturing the same image, but from a different angle.
Light painting is a pretty special form of photography. With a lot of photography, the art is the final image, and the "subject" is what is in the frame. That may be a landscape, a portrait subject or even a car. With light painting it is the person that is in the frame, creating the light painting. In the case of this image, the artist is Ben Woods. The "scene", in this case an old insane asylum, has many forms of light illuminating various parts of it, tea lights in the cells etc. The design of these aspects are done by our workshop team.
We simply make sure our attendees are ready, we count them down and they open the shutter. Creative decisions made by them are framing and if they are keen, variations to the exposure time etc.
You can see in the video below the general layout and positioning of attendees along with the general feel of a workshop.
WHO IS THE ARTIST?
Really this is the point of the post, and what I am lamenting.
When I create a light painting image, every aspect of the creative decision making is taken care of by me. Location, camera settings, tool selection and then the actual light painting. There can be no confusion, I am the artist, in every aspect. I am also the copyright holder of the image.
If photographer X captured the scene, and the scene involved someone actively creating a piece of art, how much of the "ownership" of the final image is theirs?
I used to work through this with an analogy. If you walk into an art gallery, and take a photograph of a photograph, can you then present that photograph as your photograph with no recognition of the original photographer? Could you then enter it into a competition?
Below is the same piece of light painting captured on another one of the cameras in the group. This image was captured by the artist, Ben Woods.
HOW DO I COUNTERACT THIS?
I am involved in many online photography forums. We have a light painting group that holds monthly competitions, and there is a section in the rules that states: "You MUST have created the image yourself and be the copyright holder." It is also encouraged when you post any image online, and there are other light painters in the image, you must acknowledge that you did not create the image solely.
At our workshops when we are covering the basics, I am super clear that if you capture an image where someone else is creating the light painting, you should recognise this if posting the image on social media. I do not suggest you must "tag" the actual light painter, but that it is wrong to represent an image as yours, when you did not do the actual light painting.
SO WHERE'S THE PROBLEM?
Well, as a light painter, I consider myself an artist. Those 1920 x 1080 images that you see on social media, and that I print out and sell are how I make my living. Just like an actual painter.
If I am in front of your camera and I create a light painting image, it is for you to have, it is my gift to you. But you are not the artist. If you ask me to sell it, or share it, or represent it as something different, we can have a conversation about it. But I am the artist.
It gets a little tricky here, for me, because photographer x is selling the image.
DID I SPEAK TO PHOTOGRAPHER X?
I spoke to photographer X today. I asked them if they had created the light painting image in the competition. Their response was, "I thought you had done the light painting Denis". I know I wasn't the light painter. I have not used the tool in the image.
We had a really nice conversation. Once I outlined how I feel about things when this situation occurs, photographer x said "you know I didn't even think about that, I wanted to enter the competition, and just looked through my images, and loved this one". After we chatted a bit more, I think they genuinely understood how my point of view made sense.
I genuinely believe that photographer X had absolutely no intention of misleading anyone, or doing anything unfair to the light painter. They thought it was me. They asked me what I thought they should do, and I said they should do nothing because the artist, Ben Woods, believed the there was no malice, or intent to mislead when using the image. He is a bloody nice guy.
SO, WHO OWNS THE IMAGE?
Well, photographer x is the copyright holder of the pixels that came from their camera. Ansel Adams owns the copyright of a print hanging in a gallery, unless he has contracted out of it. A commercial photographer owns the copyright of an advertising image, they license the pixels to the client, or contracts out of it.
So in legal terms, photographer x owns the copyright of the image.
I can only ask that people attending or workshops respect the other people attending, when capturing those people creating art.
There is a great article on Bernhard Rauscher's website the covers this in some detail, check it out HERE
IS THERE A SOLUTION?
For there to be a solution, first there needs to be a problem. I do think there is a problem, but I think the solution is incredibly simple.
I ask my self this question. If I am a judge at a competition, and there is a light painting image. I would assume that the image was created by the person submitting the image. I think that makes sense. In 2019 if a judge, or panel of judges does not know what light painting is or how it is created, they simply should not be working on a contemporary judging panel. These judges would have assumed that photographer x was the artist.
So, for me the solution is simple, I have a slide in my pre-workshop presentation where I talk about copyright. I just need to be a LOT clearer.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?