DO NO HARM
Nobody comes to grief as a result of participating here for their moment of daring. Nobody comes unstuck, nobody gets hung, drawn and quartered, tarred and feathered, burned at the stake, branded with a hot iron or has to search for a good divorce lawyer as a result of showing me their tits. Nobody. This project has a built-in rewind button, and anybody who takes part can back the fuck out.
BIG STICKS AND LAWYERS
So what happens when somebody - let’s call them Facebook User - wants to depress that chunky red rewind but also waves a big stick by threatening you with a lawyer?
In this situation, you quite straightforwardly accede to the request. The participant did not sign a model release form, and so you remove the work from the public domain - everybody move along, nothing to see here.
But what if that’s not what happened - at all? After the sound and fury has subsided and the dust settled, it turns out that they did actually dot the “eyes” and cross the “tees” in the corresponding legal papery bits? Quite aside why somebody would forget a detail as essential as that - perhaps a few too many good times in between - what happens after the bridges have been burned?
WHO OWNS THE MONA LISA?
Let’s say, for sake of argument, that Lucian Freud and his muse have an irreversable, bridge-burning falling out. She’s the focus of a painting that is now going to exhibit at the Tate Gallery. On the eve of the exhibition, she says: “Lucian, I hate you. Please do not use my image in your display.” What then? Who owns the right to the image, given that consent has been given, and the relevant model release forms signed?
For me, as an artist and publisher, the right to publish lies with the author of the image. It’s not somebody’s selfie, lifted from their mobile phone. The creation is a composition, in which the subject-sitter-muse is but a singular component - a key component, but one of many. The artist contributes a far greater input, the lion’s share: composition, skill, colour, craft, light and shadow.
Another example. Let’s suppose that Leonardo - no, not the guy from Titanic, the painter guy - meets a girl called Lisa. They hit it off, have a few beers and go gallavanting along to his artist’s studio. It’s a bit shabby, but get’s the job done. He should probably be looking for gainful employment, such as it’s to be had in these days of minimum wage zero-hours contracts, will likely sanctioned if some snitch calls the benefit fraud hotline but whatevs. They drink, make merry, get laid and produce great creative works - the usual. Lisa’s a bit chatty but a touch maudlin and complains a fair bit. He has a brainwave and tells a few jokes as he paints her, capturing her rare-but-enigmatic smile. A wit, he christens this new work the Moaner Lisa. So far, so good… until there is a spectacular falling out. “Leo, you fucker. You’re a degenerate and a drunk and you’ve no right to show a painting of me, however weird or wonderful. It is me and I won’t allow it.” So what now? Well, she’s entitled to her view - everybody has one. She can make her position clear, but the artist’s muse has no greater claim to it’s authorship - and ownership - than Lisa del Giocondo would have over the Mona Lisa. It’s ultimately up to the author to decide what to publish and where. Although this project is set up such that participants get to choose how their images are used - web, print, exhibit or not at all - this is predicated on the social glue between artist and participant remaining intact.
Many of the best photographs taken during the life-span of this project will never be seenthe internet is such that once published Any request for me to withhold the use of a picture I’ve taken is carefully considered and usually granted because it’s that rare, it’s usually for a good reason. Even if it’s not, and it’s some spurious bullshit - again, usually some flaky boyfriend gets unduly concerned that some strange man talked his girlfriend into a state of undress in a matter of minutes… worrying! - it’s better to be cool, do the easy thing whether it’s the right thing or not, or even a good thing, in order to keep that social glue intact. I met you out here in this hard city, and we shared something special, something real, an intimacy - even if it was just minutes long. It is ultimately my prerogative but I want to sleep knowing that nobody I met is losing sleep because of what I do.
IF YOU WANT SOMETHING, ASK NICELY
What’s left at the end of this episode is an old lesson, one we are all raised with. If you want something, ask nicely. “Polite” is such an Englishism and such a wonderful cultural idiom but some learn this lesson better than others.
Didn’t say I was, but thanks! Nice will only get you “so far”, but maybe that’s as far as you need to go. Why wield a gun when disarming politeness will get you what you want - especially when it turns out you were firing blanks all along?