Something strange is going on.
Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-8199 (color film copy transparency) LC-USF342-T01-008138-A (b&w film dup. neg.)
Just about everybody is familiar with Walker Evans’ photographs of the Burroughs and other families in and around Greenville, Alabama, taken in the 1930s…like this one and this one and this one. In fact, the Library of Congress has the entire album available to click through here.
Walker Evans’ pics doesn’t fall under copyright since they were taken while he was employed by the FSA and are considered federal government work. That’s how these are considered in the public domain.
Well, anyway, in 1979 Sherrie Levine took photographs of Walker Evans’ photographs. Meaning she popped open an exhibition catalog of the pics and snapped away with her own camera. Never even set foot in Alabama. And she put those pictures in a show as her own, with her own copyright. I mean, everybody knew that these were not her original pics, but I guess it was just so…I don’t know…as Av would say, it was awfully “chutzpadik” that she would do it…but anyway, it ‘passed’ as art and even today the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York owns it as a series called “After Walker Evans”. There’s more about Sherrie Levine and that series here.
Well I guess turnabout is fair play, because another artist, Michael Mandiberg, has taken pictures of her pictures and is making his pictures available online for *free* with a ‘certificate of authenticity’ for them at his site, After Sherrie Levine.
Michael Mandiberg says at his website that:
By distributing these images for free, like open source software, I am making a second attempt to negotiate Benjamin. By including the High-Resolution exhibition quality images to download and print out, along with a certificate of authenticity for each image, I have taken a strong step towards creating an art object that has cultural value, but little or no economic value.
Berkeley even did a two-day program called “Takeovers & Makeovers: Artistic Appropriation, Fair Use, and Copyright in the Digital Age” last month about this and some other instances of ‘who owns what’…