This Could Change Everything…

Photographer Philip Lorca DiCorcia is being sued for an image he took in 2001 of a man walking down the sidewalk. This man seeks damages from not only DiCorcia but anyone who has in any way profited from the picture.
As the law stands this man has no case, BUT in light of recent events and the pouncing on anything artistic (which is often interpreted as a much worse word, ‘liberal’), a judge could rule in the mans’ favor. If so, will we be sued for looking at each other in public next? I realize a photograph is different than looking, but is it?
More here
and here.
Who’s next? Robert Frank, Winogrand, Cartier Bresson, etc..?
(thanks to Ken Meier for bringing this to my attention)


  1. Posted July 1, 2005 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    “I realize a photograph is different than looking, but is it?”

    Isn’t it, when it’s being sold for $20,000 a pop?

  2. Posted July 2, 2005 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Ben, Thanks for your comment. You have a good point but one must understand the incredible expense it is to be an artist. Although this picture may or may not have sold for this much (or more) does not mean anyone is getting rich of the image. Galleries usually take half, the expense to produce the work, cameras, film, traveling, assistants, etc… all adds up to a considerable amount of money. I know DiCorcia teaches at Yale and that is probably the bread and butter of his support.

    As well I might add, if DiCorcia made a painting of the photograph would that be different?

  3. Posted July 3, 2005 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link on this, Brian.

  4. Posted July 4, 2005 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Frankly I think that if he can get $20,000 for a single photo, then he can’t really be labled as a struggling starving artist. Yes, most artists struggle and is never able to afford the equipment they feel that they need while also having food on the table on a regular basis. As depressing as that may be, one always has the option to take a second job. The question here is more wether or not one has the right to use other people as an income without their consent.

    Myself I have felt that the very fact that I haven’t ever made a cent from anything expressive I have attempted helps to justify some of the things I have done. At least I haven’t used people for profit. I’m not exactly a papparazzi or anything, but I have in the past done a lot of street photography. And lately my concience has started to bother me a little in the case of one or two photos.

    A couple of years ago I was photographing some teenagers leaning against a carnival snack bar when one of them suddenly said “hey, don’t take my picture”. I mumbled something about not photographing them, only the snack bar. A lie. I had already gotten the shot before he spoken and I knew it was good. I felt there and then that this was my best photo ever, as one tends to do when things go right. He had hardly looked at me. I thought that he probably said what he said more to mark his territory… to show off his commanding attitude to his buddies. I thought that if he had seen the photo he would have loved it. I probably should have come clean and offered him to see a nice big free copy before saying yes or no, but I didn’t. I was nervous because I had been caught in the act of photographing a stranger without permission. How did he have the right to deny the world this epic work of art just on a whim? Without even having seen it? What would be more important in 100 years? A dead unknown persons pride or a great photo of an era now gone?

    However… Two significant changes has occured in me over the past few years. One is my ever escalating fear of people. I can’t photograph strangers now at all. Often not even if they ask me to. I’m just too nervous. The other change is my own growing irrational fear of cameras. Not long ago a friend of mine illustrated this by holding his empty cupped hand to his face like an imaginary mini camcorder. Even that was enough to make me freeze and start to stutter. I used to be quite a poser in my youth, but now I cannot act natural in front of a camera at all. I have become a bad actor.

    Another thing I have been worried about lately is the growing number of on-the-street, candid camera gags that are aimed solely at making fun of odd and unusual misfits. These shows are on every channel here. And at this point in my life I feel that if I suddenly had found myself as the laughing stock of an entire nation, then killing myself would be the only viable option.

    I doubt that the subject in question here has these precise vanity and insecurity issues. It is a striking photo. The old guy has probably never looked better. But he objects to being used in this manner for other reasons. It is easier for me now to see things from his point of view even though what he dislikes about it all may be totally different from what worries me.

    I do find it a bit worrying that artistic creation as become so closely linked to the act of using other people, or their work such as in sampling music. It seems like a good idea that everyone can make their own works based on other people’s work, but when you try to do a simple web search for a string like “photography gallery OR portfolio art” you notice how all the shit out there completely obscures the chance of disovering someone new and great. And even while I was photographing others on the street without their permission, I was furious when on one occasion I found a “digital painting” online that was based off of one of my photos. Was there really that much difference in what I did and what that person had done with my work? Isn’t it arrogant to use someones likeness to make a photograph and then slap a copyright on the finished work and expect everyone to respect it?

    I don’t know… I think that this photo in question here will still be around for the historans and curators in 100 years time. The artistic message in it will be secured. So the debate now really is about making money off a living person against their will after all.

  5. Posted July 5, 2005 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m no fan of what they call street photography; but this law suit is ridiculous.

    And I’m trying to find out what is really behind it: Is it the money aspect? (Would the guy care if no money had been made?)

    Or is it this weird aspect that I can’t pin down exactly but that – to me at least – boils down to people taking themselves a bit too seriously?

    I mean if you leave your house you’re there, out in the open, for everybody to see. Why shouldn’t one be allowed to take a photo of you? How does taking a photo – even against your will – infringe any rights? And it gets even more convoluted: I bet the same guy complaining about this photo has no problem with his photo being taken all over the place by so-called security cameras in department stores etc. How does that compute?

    And what will this development mean for artists?

    In a sense, this lawsuit is quite good, though, because it will force a lot of people to think about this issue and to find a solution. Needless to say, if diCircia loses the lawsuit this will be quite a sad day for photography and art.

  6. Posted July 6, 2005 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Good point Joerg, we are photographed everywhere today. Police surveillance, security in parking lots, stores etc…
    Tore, I myself beleive that to censor my own ideas as a artist/photographer is not giving them the credit they are due. There is always a way to go about doing something and making the pictures in your head. The interesting thing here is how many artists have approached this issue of the candid portrait.

  7. Chris
    Posted July 8, 2005 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I don’t know all the details of this suit, but shouldn’t DiCorcia have asked for a model release before publishing or selling the man’s image? Our right to take photos on the street is one thing, but to profit without consent is another.

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