This week we read "On the Rights of the Molotov Man" by Joy Garnett and Susan Meiselas, published in Harper's Magazine in 2007. We also finished our Sound assignment!
Molotov, by Joy Garnet
Here are my (less than composed) thoughts on the reading:
It's rare that we get a read an article regarding a copyright dispute between two parties where we head from both sides of the argument. The central question being: when a piece of art is a documentation or recording of a specific event with historical value, does the artist have a right to control the content or distribution of said piece of art? Is the subject of the imagery entitled to recognition and royalties if the work of art grows in value?
In this day and age, where "content creator" is a ubiquitous term for pretty much anyone on the planet posting video on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube etc., this age-old early-internet-age issue of appropriation and ownership feels pretty moot because everything is appropriated. This is especially true seeing that TikTok, in and of itself, is a social media platform based around the idea of appropriating other people's videos and audio to create your own - and there's over 600 million users of the platform. The world has embraced appropriation, even if corporations with legal IP ownership does not.
But this article isn't really about the legal side of copyrights, it's more about the idea of context and whether or not it's something that should be retained when documentary images are being appropriated into other forms of visual media. Of course both Joy and Susan have valid arguments, but it is refreshing to hear from a photographer who is more concerned about the preservation of context in regards to her subject matter, than in getting a paycheck from the artist who "stole" her imagery. But of course it's hard not to think by reading Susan's account that there's much more to this story than just that, the pursuit of money and accreditation.
This reminds me of a legal case years ago involving artist Richard Prince who had an exhibition of Instagram images that were not his. He printed the enlarged images out and hung on a gallery wall along with the name of the Instagram account they belonged to. Apparently the act of printing them up and placing them in a gallery together was enough of a "transformation" legally to be completely fine - but nevertheless caused a stir in the art world for some time. Richard Prince has always been pushing the boundaries of copyright laws, which seems to be the purpose of his work, and does change the context of the images he appropriates. But does that make it ok? I'm not sure Susan would think so.
I think context is always important. Understanding how a piece of art or photograph came to be ultimately helps in understanding the work itself. Some artists purposefully do not want you to understand the context because it distracts from the immediate and visceral reaction to the work. But I think it's important when interacting with someone else's work to have both the initial reaction, as well as some added context. It allows one to form a more complete understanding of the work and of the artist.
In this particular case of the Molotov Man, I think Joy's actions to include at least a mention of the photograph with which the painting was created from is important to include and goes a long way in helping to provide important context for the viewer. I do not think this added context removes the purpose of this painting, or the reason the artist created it. The original photograph and appropriated painting are completely different, and equally important and valid contextually.
One question I always have when viewing high-value historical photographs (particularly in war-torn or poor areas) is do the subjects of these images reap any monetary benefits of these photographs? The artists certainly do by selling them to the press or presenting them in galleries. The increase in fame and reputation allows them to make more money for their art, but I doubt much of that money goes to the populations and communities these artists are photographing. Is awareness and context enough anymore? Did Pablo Arauz benefit from being known as the Molotov Man?
Sound Assignment Final
This weekend we wrapped up our sound assignment. Isaiah Bayas and I decided to create a sound vacation of our morning commute to the ITP floor. We each take separate trains on different ends of Queens to head to school and wanted to provide listeners with small, tasty little sound bites of each neighborhood we pass by on our commute. We didn't to provide any specific context to the listener other than the announcements of each stop along our route, rather wanted to see if any patterns or ideas emerged on the ride itself.
The trip spans from my trip to ITP and then travels down to the last stop Isaiah takes heading home.
Here's the entire trip:
It ended up being a lot longer than originally anticipated but I thought it was important to include sound from each stop on our line. Each stop is about 15 seconds.
Overall this was a fun project, especially coming out of quarantine. Many of these neighborhoods I hadn't explored since before lockdown and it was great to return to some of these spots I took for granted. Even if the listener isn't transported, it exists as a document of a particularly great commute for me and reminded me of some of the things I love about this city.