Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Living the Life of an Artist: Using People’s Images in Art

The subject of asking permission came up with regards to using people’s pictures as artwork. There was quite a discussion on a blog that I read. In my own work, I do not deal with people unless I am taking photographs for the newspaper and then I ask permission of subjects and parents if they are children. To me, it’s a question of ethics and just feels wrong to take pictures of someone without getting their permission, especially if you are looking to sell those pictures.

This morning, as I was journaling, I began seeing famous paintings and pictures of people in my mind. Did the artist or photographer have permission for every one? Of course, when someone, a model, sits for a picture, then permission is then given, but what of all those images snapped of people on the street or in less than pleasant situations; images that get printed in newspapers and magazines? Does journalism follow different rules from artists? How much depends on the situation?

Reading Jason’s blog left me feeling that this subject is mostly a question of ethics. Yes, in this country, there could be legal ramifications if permission isn’t granted, but there seems to be much gray area. My initial reactions are that it is wrong to even TAKE someone’s picture without their permission.

Because of these issues, I don’t do much with people shots from an artist standpoint. I have many pictures of the grandchildren and others that are amazing photos and yet, the thought of matting these with intent to sell seems wrong. I would not want pictures hanging on my wall of people I do not know, so why would I expect others to purchase photos that I have?

Pictures done by artists and photographers come to my mind along with the question of when is it exploiting someone’s picture and what is art. Nudity in art books is considered art, whereas in magazines, it is pornography.  The models in magazines are giving permission for their images to be used, but the intent is very different from those who pose for painters or the sake of art. This was really brought to my attention when I worked at Barnes & Noble. I used to laugh to myself to see magazines wrapped up in cellophane and yet anyone could go to the art section and open big picture books to view nude women. ART. The eye of the artist.

Oh, my, the light bulb went off! It is ethics, but it is also how the artist SEES!!! The artist isn’t seeing the outside identity of the person being photographed or painted. Something is seen beyond that. The “model” is just a vehicle to capture an image, a memory, an expression. THAT’s the art! Not so much the person, but what the person is conveying in the moment. It is something that comes from within the artist and the vehicle for its release is in the model or image.

Yes, sometimes the artist is taking the photo or painting the picture of a particular person to do a commissioned portrait. Many times, however, the public will never know the real identity of that person. Names are not often used. Blue Boy, Girl with the Pearl Earring, Woman in Red, American Gothic, etc. Artists see things on a different level. They are capturing an image, a feeling of what the pose, the scene, the expression is portraying to them. They use a visual (model or photograph) to ignite the spark of creativity.

This made me think about a few of my pictures of people that I have thought about using, those that can be considered art. Of course, if I put those pictures out for sale, it wouldn’t be because of WHO that person is, but because of the expression, of what the total picture says, of the ARTistry of the photo. It’s the way that image is captured that takes it from a plain photograph to a work of art. A photographer may take a hundred photos and only get two or three that can be really seen as art.

This self inflection of how I view people in art has taken me to a new realm. No, I am not going to be a people photographer, but if, every so often, I get a special picture, then perhaps it will be okay to use it, to take it into the world of art. It will definitely be with permission, though.

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