Original = Higher Resolution

hockney_iphone_nyrb.jpgLawrence Weschler narrates a slideshow of David Hockney’s iPhone/Brushes drawings for the NY Review of Books:

When he finishes one of these drawings, he sends it out into the world…
There’s about 15, 20 people, and he assumes that we send them on to other people if we like it.
One of the things that’s quite fascinating in this whole thing is that we have the original on our iPhone. Which is to say there’s no version that’s higher resolution than the one we have; we all have the same resolution. The ones you’re looking at right now are originals as well.

Technically, there are images and .brushes files. If you send Brushes images as .brushes files, their creation can be replayed like an animated movie. [It makes me interested to try to animate a Brushes work the way, say, William Kentridge does, treating the buildup of strokes as a narrative device. But that’s not the point right now.] But if Hockney just sends out images, then his friends have a file that is distinct and different from the “original,” and all its embedded generative data. It is certainly different from the image embedded in a slideshow.
But that’s a highly particular assumption of originality that pertains to this app. Weschler’s assumption that a copy is lower-resolution than an original has much broader implications. It’s an assumption that’s hardcoded into almost all our image reproduction technology, as I inadvertently discovered when I began trying to accurately reproduce the 300×404 pixels of 300×404, after Untitled (Cowboy) 2003 by Richard Prince, the original of which is a .jpg file.
An image invisibly but irrevocably sheds a phenomenal amount of data and time- and process-related content when it goes from .brushes file to .png or jpg. In precisely the opposite way, transferring 300×404 to anything other than the jpg it is turns out to involve the addition of an incredible amount of data, via interpolation, upgrading and smoothing and blending algorithms. Those original 121,200 pixels get drowned out completely.
Audio Slide Show: Lawrence Weschler on David Hockney’s iPhone Passion [nybooks]
Previously: 300×404: The making of

After After After

From Linda Yablonsky’s article on The Pictures Generation in Art in America:

Bloom remembers seeing Levine’s appropriated Walker Evans photos and thinking, “Oh my God, that is so radical and so insane. It was also brilliant. Sherrie didn’t address any of the esthetic issues, just narrowed it down to the most essential idea about what constitutes ownership of an image, and that was it.”
Joel Wachs, now president of the Andy Warhol Foundation, was a city councilman in Los Angeles in the ’80s and an avid collector of art. In 1984, he saw Levine’s “After Walker Evans” appropriations from 1981 and became the first person to buy one. “I remember having a hard time accepting it at first,” he says. “What was this art, copying someone else’s pictures? Then it started to open me up to a much broader way of thinking about art. The art itself had all the formal qualities I liked and also made people think about male dominance in the art world. Sherrie’s work was $300 and Cindy’s was $800, but some male painters were getting $75,000. When Kruger said, ‘Your body is a battleground,’ that was a clarion call for a political movement.”

Also, hmmm:

In 1936 Walker Evans photographed the Burroughs, a family of sharecroppers in Depression era Alabama. In 1979 in Sherrie Levine rephotographed Walker Evans’ photographs from the exhibition catalog “First and Last.” In 2001 Michael Mandiberg scanned these same photographs, and created AfterWalkerEvans.com and AfterSherrieLevine.com to facilitate their dissemination as a comment on how we come to know information in this burgeoning digital age.

Copying as a creative strategy carries within it the assumption of other copies.
Photo Play [artinamericamagazine via afc]
related: Untitled (300 x 404, after Untitled (Cowboy), 2003 by Richard Prince)

Richard Prints: Untitled (300 x 404)

Untitled (300 x 404, After Untitled (Cowboy), 2003 by Richard Prince)
I just got my first edition of Untitled (300 x 404, after Untitled (Cowboy), 2003 by Richard Prince) from the printer. It’s a 1px = 1mm version, which came out to be 12 x 16 inches, inkjet printed on aluminum.
Though it’s crazy to feel any sense of accomplishment for an image I appropriated whose fabrication I outsourced, I’m actually kind of stoked. The print looks fantastic, with a graininess that doesn’t map to the supposed pixel dimensions.
When you zoom in on a screen, a pixel is so nice and tidy and square. But unless you’re a mosaicist or a North Korean cardflipping stadium extravaganza director, physical pixels are probably not going to be square. Who knew?
Anyway, since it cost the same to make one as a dozen, there’s an edition of ten, with a couple of proofs. If I had a dealer, a gallery, an artist career, or an idea to have any of the above, I’d probably sell them. I’m sure they’d be cheaper than the Richard Prince.
Previously: West Trademark @)#(*$ed Up
Untitled (300 x 404): the making of
update: Just found out via Joerg’s post that the original photographer was not Jim Krantz, but Sam Abell, the great National Geographic photographer. He shot it in 1996 for Leo Burnett, Marlboro/Philip Morris’s agency. PDN had an interview with Abell about it last year, on the occasion of Untitled (Cowboy)‘s prominence in Prince’s Guggenheim retrospective.

300×404: The Making Of

So the other day, I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Slate’s editors were, “ironically, unable to get permission” to reproduce Richard Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy), 2003 for Sarah Boxer’s slideshow review of “Into The Sunset,” MoMA’s exhibition of photography’s role in creating the concept of the American West. [The irony, of course, is that Prince’s work is actually a rephotograph of a Marlboro Man ad, which was probably photographed originally by Jim Krantz.] [Update: actually, last year, PDN identified the original photographer as Sam Abell. thanks Joerg.]
And so I blithely grabbed an image of Untitled (Cowboy) online, resized and retitled it, and republished it as my own work, 300 x 404, After Untitled (Cowboy) 2003 by Richard Prince, and offered to let Slate show it instead. Though I’ve written for Slate before, they have not, as yet, taken me up on my offer.
Not that I expect them to. The point that Slate felt copyright-constrained while Prince so clearly didn’t was so obvious, it’s barely interesting. And even their complete abrogation of fair use principles, which specifically allow reproduction of copyrighted work for purposes including “criticism, comment, [and] news reporting,” is kind of equivocal.
Boxer’s piece was decidedly not a review, and it could arguably not be news, but I can’t see how Slate could decide it wasn’t comment. I have to assume they just accepted some publicist’s refusal–whether MoMA’s or Prince’s dealer Barbara Gladstone [at the time the work was made, anyway. Now it’s Gagosian.] they don’t say–to provide a suitably hi-res file. If they’d wanted to run the image, they could have grabbed a slightly smallish version online, or they could have scanned Prince’s work from the catalogue, but they acquiesced to the wishes of someone somewhere who, ironically, did not actually control the copyright anyway. Fine, now we know.
After posting my one-liner, though, I started thinking more about this work I’d just created, what claim I really had to it, and what relationship it really had vis a vis Prince’s–and Krantz’s Abell’s–work. The pixel count in the title seemed to hold a key. A relatively new articulation of fair use exemptions has emerged specifically to deal with the no-permission-necessary reproduction of images online. Though it didn’t offer any technical guidelines, a 2002 lawsuit, Kelly v Arriba Soft Corporation, helped establish a fair use exemption for thumbnail images.
And that’s what interests me most about my re-reproduction. What’s a thumbnail? What size and quality does an image have to be to qualify for online fair use? What does its thumbnail-ness relate to? The size of the screen? Of the page? Of the original? Does it relate to the resolution, or just the display size? It’s an issue I think about every time I grab someone else’s image and post about it here. Beyond just giving credit and a link, I try not to create a perfect substitute for someone’s original, or for the context they put it in. [Ironically-again, that word–when I started greg.org way back in 2001, I was still a little hippie dippie Xanadu-ey about it all, and would hotlink to too many images. Too many of those impolite, dead links are still lurking in my archives, waiting for my ghost army of interns to fix.]
And what happens when you start reproducing a work that begins online and is defined first and foremost, not by its resolution, but by its pixel count?
When I started looking for a place to print 300 x 404 on canvas, I found that it wasn’t so easy. The original web resolution, 72 dpi, would only produce a tiny, 4×5-in painting. I wanted to see something, you know, more Princeian, a 30 x 40-in. painting [10 ppi] or maybe even a Gurky-esque 60 x 80-in. [5 ppi], 60 inches being the maximum width of canvas today’s printers can handle.
As any Photoshop user can tell, increasing the pixel size is like zooming in on a digital image. Except in this case, it’s not the size of the magnifying glass, but the size of the pixel itself that increases. And since it’s the pixel count, not the size that’s important, I figured I’d go with a round number, 1 px = 1 mm, or 25.4 ppi, which would produce a nice, manageable little 12 x 16.2 painting.
Or at least it should. According to all the print studios I’ve spoken to, you can’t adjust the print resolution on their state-of-the-art inkjet printers; you can only get “the best” resolution. And if your image isn’t hi-res enough, no problem; they’ll fix it for you:

We understand that almost no one has a digital camera capable of producing native resolution for a 30X40 giclee at 150ppi. We can use image interpolation to compensate.
For example, if ordering a 30X40″ print, we would generally require to have a file that measures 30X40″ at 200 ppi.

Digital cameras compete on megapixel counts, and generations of printers claim they can [finally!] be “true” to an original work of art. And when an original doesn’t hold up, “image interpolation” comes to the rescue. The assumptions of accuracy, authenticity, and fidelity are embedded deep in our image-saturated world. And just as HD television forced the development of new makeup techniques to save large-pored actresses’ careers, our own perception of veracity is constantly changing in ways we don’t acknowledge.
Now consider Sarah Boxer’s assessment of Prince on Slate which is, at every level, incorrect:

Although the photo looks authentic, it is, at every level, inauthentic…Prince didn’t really take the picture of the cowboy himself. And even the original photographer wasn’t catching a real moment in a cowboy’s life; he was just shooting an ad.

That “just shooting an ad” kills me. Has there ever been an ad campaign more relentless in its pursuit of visual and content authenticity than Marlboro’s? Is the photo “inauthentic” because it’s an ad? Because it’s not a “documentary”? Is the cowboy inauthentic only if he is auditioned, dressed, placed or directed? Isn’t Prince’s photograph of the photograph a near-perfect 1:1 representation? Prince’s work provokes these kinds of questions and challenges these kinds of assumptions, the very ones Boxer seems completely oblivious to.
But I can’t laugh too hard; as my little offhand attempt to accurately reproduce my 121,200 pixels is proving, I’m just as likely to be oblivious to the limits of my own assumptions, too.

West Trademark F(*#$Up

From Slate’s review of MoMA’s “The Wild West,” “Into the Sunset,” [thanks todd] a scattershot exhibit on photography’s role in forming perception of the American West:

And the opening shot of the show–right at the entrance to greet you–is Untitled (Cowboy), a Richard Prince photo from 2003 that was stolen, adapted, or made–depending on what you think of this artist–from a Marlboro ad. Although the photo looks authentic, it is, at every level, inauthentic. (We were, ironically, unable to get permission to reproduce it here.) Prince didn’t really take the picture of the cowboy himself. And even the original photographer wasn’t catching a real moment in a cowboy’s life; he was just shooting an ad.

Here, let me help. I can’t do anything about the review’s stubborn fixation on unnuanced terms like “authentic,” “true,” and “lie.” But I can and do hereby grant Slate permission to reproduce my latest work, 300×404, After Untitled (Cowboy), 2003 by Richard Prince, 2009. It’s much lower-res than the original [sic], but at least I will not try to thwart fair use of it by reviewers. Seriously, people, wtf.

Richard Prince Sued For–What Else?–Appropriating Photographs

Via Cityfile, we learn that Paris photographer Patrick Cariou has filed suit against Richard Prince, Gagosian [the man and the gallery], and Rizzoli for copyright infringement. Prince used photos from Cariou’s 2000 book Yes Rasta in the Canal Zone paintings he just showed at Gagosian NY last month [Rizzoli published a book of Prince’s works, too.]
In the suit [embedded pdf at cityfile], Cariou repeatedly calls Prince an “appropriation artist” [quotes included], who “boasts” of “copying” other peoples’ work. What’s different in this case, Cariou argues, is that instead of copying “anonymous commercial imagery, such as advertisements,” Prince has copied Cariou’s work. Which happens to be hard-won portraits of camera-shy Rastafarians, “approximately 100 strikingly original black-and-white photographs, mostly close-up portraits of stern, mystical-looking men within a distinctive tropical landscape.”
As fun as it might be to watch the bedlam if Cariou was granted the relief he seeks–namely, monetary damages for copyright infringment and conspiracy; having every painting, scrap, scan, page and byte of the infringing works turned over to him and destroyed; having Gagosian send out notices to the buyers of Prince’s paintings that it is illegal to display or sell their infringing works–I don’t see Prince or his people losing much sleep over this case.
First off, it’s not like the advertising imagery Prince has used before is either “anonymous” or the product of happenstance. When Prince’s versions of his Marlboro Man photos were shown at the Guggenheim in 2007, the NY Times interviewed well-known photographer Jim Krantz. He clearly had issues with the appropriation–rephotography in this case–and if he hadn’t assigned his copyright to Philip Morris, Krantz would probably be able to get a settlement from Prince, just like the rephotographed Brooke Shields photographer Garry Gross did.
Reading Cariou’s complaint, you’d almost think Prince was simply re-presenting Cariou’s images as his own. In fact, Prince’s process and his use of Cariou’s images are much more complex, and it will almost certainly be the basis for a judgment in Prince’s favor. As the Canal Zone press release explains, process is central to the works:

..[the paintings] are, literally, “put together,” like provisional magazine lay-outs. Some images, scanned from originals, are printed directly onto the base canvas; others are “dragged on,” using a primitive collage technique whereby printed figures are roughly cut out, then the backs of those figures painted and pasted directly onto the base canvas with a squeegee so that the excess paint squirts out on and around the image. On top of this are violently suggestive swipes and drips of livid paint and scribbles of oil-stick crayon which, together with the comic, abstract sign-features that mask each figure’s face, add to the powerful push-pull between degree and effect. This has become a completely new way for Prince to make a painting, where much of what shows up on the surface is incidental to the process.

Collaging and reworking and changes in format, size, medium and styles, they’re all transformative creative techniques that were directly addressed in the 2005-6 case, Blanch vs. Koons, where the same court [the US Southern District] found that Jeff Koons did not infringe Andrea Blanch’s copyright when he collaged a pair of legs from her photograph–published in a 2000 issue of Allure magazine–in a painting. Blanch lost on appeal, too.
Prince’s process means his works, like Koons’s, will almost certainly be declared transformative, not derivative works, and as such, they’re fair use, not infringing. But Cariou’s filing also sows the seeds of another fair use argument, that of criticism and commentary. Cariou waxes on about the Rastafarians,

…a spiritual society, living simply, independently, and in harmony with nature, apart from the industrialized world of environmental pollution and materialism which they reject and refer to as “Babylon.” Naturally, the Rastafarians do not trust outsiders, such as Plaintiff, and it was only after living with them for years that Plaintiff was finally permitted to photograph them.

Prince’s Canal Zone project is precisely a critique of this sort of European Caribbean romanticism:

Prince has transformed the former reality of his birthplace [i.e., the Panama Canal Zone] into a fictive space: “Canal Zone” provides an anarchic tropical scenario in which extreme emanations of the (white American male) id – fleshy female pin-ups, Rastafarians with massive dreadlocks, electric guitars, and virile black bodies – run riot.

And then he takes it further, critiquing utopias wherever they’re found [sic], including Thomas More’s original Utopia, an island “that possessed a seemingly perfect socio-political-legal system.” Sound familiar?
By roughly juxtaposing distinctly unclassy porn against Cariou’s photos, Prince calls bullshit on the myth of the White Man’s humble, harmonic embrace of and by the “simple,” “stern,” “mystical” Rastas. Cariou might as well sue Andy Samberg and NBC for defamation while he’s at it. He’d probably have a better case.

Richard Prince and Larry Gagosian slapped with suit [cityfile via afc]
Canal Zone, Nov 8 – Dec 20, 2008 [gagosian]
Is it even in print? Could the controversy lead to a new edition? LIMITED AVAILABILITY – Yes Rasta by Patrick Cariou [powerhousebooks.com]
If the Copy Is an Artwork, Then What’s the Original? [nyt, 2007]

“the artist known as Mr. Prince”


Randy Kennedy has a great, if slightly artificially naive, article on Richard Prince, whose retrospective opens at the Guggenheim next week. Despite curator Nancy Spector’s play-along comments to the contrary, Prince’s “readymade” edition of three custom-built replicas of a 1970 Dodge Challenger does not, in fact, push “the art-or-not-art question up to its breaking point”; it’s a question that’s been asked and answered long, long ago, when Duchamp had his first readymades custom-fabricated:

Mr. Prince said he was still not quite sure what to consider the car, although he does plan an edition of three, and he thinks of the first one, recently completed for him by XV Motorsports in Irvington, N.Y., a high-end builder of modernized muscle cars, as an artist’s proof. (Its first appearance will be at the Frieze Art Fair next month in London, where the car was recently shipped.)
Aside from minor customizing Mr. Prince asked for, the car is identical to an earlier Challenger XV made using vintage shells but filling them with new high-performance engines, suspension and steering. (The company’s prices start at $140,000.)
“I kind of agreed with the look of the car they had put out,” Mr. Prince said, adding that he also liked the custom color XV had already mixed for the car, a yellowish orange he calls “Vitamin C.”
On later versions, he said, he might customize the gas cap, headrests, upholstery and other parts of the car with his artwork. But for now a mean ride is being declared a kind of street-legal ready-made basically because Mr. Prince is in love with the way it looks — and the way, as with many of the appropriations in his art, it reflects American desires and dreams, particularly those of his youth in the tumultuous 1960s and ’70s.

Still, it’s interesting to read that Prince’s bio may be equally conceptual, i.e., fabricated, even on the basics. Says Spector, “only half-jokingly: ‘His real name might not be Richard Prince. It’s entirely possible.'”
I’m not not a fan of Prince’s work, but it has sure been the subject of a heap of art world/ market insider giddiness the last few years. Talking about the cars, Spector says “the critical function” may not have “caught up to” Prince’s work yet. And given her own coyness about insuring the car as a car or a work of art, and her apparent complicity in treating nominally verifiable facts as performative fiction, I can’t imagine much “critical function” in the Guggenheim show, either. Full credit to Randy for the headline quote above, though.
The Duchamp of the Muscle Car[nyt]