What is Appropriation?
The word ‘Appropriation’ can be defined in more than one way.
- To set apart, authorise or legislate for some specific purpose or use
- To take to or for oneself take possession of
- To take without permission or consent; seize; expropriate
- To steal, especially to commit petty theft
In photography, many photographers have used appropriation in their work. They take a pre-existing image and edit it in a way that makes it unique to them. The images are usually manipulated in a way to give the image a whole new meaning through the photographer’s own reinterpretation. This can be achieved by re-creating the image with small changes such as re-framing, changing colours or subjects slightly etc.
Richard Prince is a photographer well-known for his appropriation work. One of his most famous photographs is Untitled (cowboy). In this image Prince simply photographed a copy of the photograph that was used in cigarette company Marlboro’s image which was photographed in the 1970’s by commercial photographer Sam Abell. The only difference being how he cropped all the text out. Richard prince became the first photographer whose work sold for more than a million dollars because of this photograph. Abell commented on prince’s work stating “I put into it what I put into a photograph, I gave it life” and “I gave it its first life, and it’s my photograph. No one would disagree with that.” This caused a lot of controversy at the time and Richard Prince is still to this day disliked by many photographers for his so called ‘laziness’.
In Richard Prince’s more recent work named ‘The New Portraits’ exhibited in the Gagosian Gallery in 2014, he was sued for copyright infringement by Donald Graham, a photographer who claims Prince appropriated his photograph ‘Rastafarian smoking a joint’ without permission. Prince’s collection of photographs that were displayed in the gallery consisted of screen grabs of posts on the social networking site Instagram. He showed a total of thirty-eight portraits including posts from popular Instagram accounts such as ‘SuicideGirls’ and ‘DoeDeere’. The only modification made by prince was the increase in scale of each image and the edited comments underneath the pictures, which gives the images different meanings. Donald graham has also stated that the re-appropriation of his photograph was not manipulated enough for it to be called an original piece of work.
‘SuicideGirls’ founder Selena Mooney wrote on the group’s website in response to Prince’s work; “if I had a nickel for every time someone used our images without our permission in a commercial endeavour I’d be able to spend $90,000 on art”, “Richard Prince is an artist and he found the images we and the girls publish on Instagram as representative of something worth commenting on, part of the zeitgeist, I guess?”
This first image on the left represents the act of appropriation that artists and photographers take in their work. The hand takes possession of all the different brands and companies work and the brain will then use them for a specific use or purpose. This image is a combination of three images, in which I cropped and re-framed in order to create the new meaning. This was inspired by Richard Prince’s use of appropriation in his work. The other image on the right also represents the act of appropriation, however tis image focuses on how brands and companies can do this. In this image I used the company ‘Coca-Cola’’s logo to replaced elements of NASA’s image of the first selfie in space, which takes the audience’s attention from NASA and draws them to Coca-cola instead showing the image as a form of re-branding and marketing.
The original images:
The three images above are from the first image. To create my original image, I cropped out the middle of the image of the hands holding a pool of people and layered the cropped second image on top of it. I then re-framed the image of the brain, placing it on its side in the middle of the hands. Finally I cropped the second image of the company logos to remove the background. I then layered the image on top of the brain to make it look like the logos are being consumed by the brain.
The three images above were used to create my second original image. To create this, I first cropped out the background and the inside of the astronauts helmet in the first image. I then decreased the scale of the second image of the coca-cola bottles and duplicated the image before placing the images into the background, behind the astronaut. Finally, I placed the last image into the astronaut’s helmet by cropping it and layering it behind the image.