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In respect to the artist - NO PHOTOS · Tuesday February 12, 2008 by Crosbie Fitch

So, one day last week I wander into Beaver Creek Hats & Leathers at 36 East Broadway on the south side of Jackson Hole’s town square (WY 83001).

I see a couple of chairs, much like that in the following photo:

Juniper Rocker

Upon one of those chairs is a white card upon which is written “In respect to the artist – NO PHOTOS”.

Now what gets me is how on earth this can be a matter of respect to the artist. Under what colour sky does the person live who believes that photography of an artist’s publicly exhibited work (and no doubt dissemination thereof) can show disrespect to the artist?

Respect would be taking photos, blogging about how great the artist’s work was, and introducing an ever larger audience to the the artist. This no doubt helps establish the artist as the recognised author of their unique style and creates considerable demand for their work by those who appreciate it.

I asked a sales assistant in the shop why the sign was there and he suggested it was to reduce the likelihood of the work being copied, i.e. to maintain the exclusivity of this form of furniture to the artists who made it.

Bit of a cleft stick there really eh? And a double edged sword to boot. Want to help potential buyers discover this unique work, but at the same time need to avoid tipping off the competition to preserve its uniqueness. If only the state could grant them a monopoly they’d not have to take such measures. But then how could any artist be so selfish as to demand that no other crafstman be permitted to reproduce their style of furniture? Is the world not big enough? Can their furniture really be so easily reproduced? Is competition intrinsically unfair? Is facilitation of competition via inevitably promotional photography disrespectful to the artist?

The thing is, if I had no respect for the artist or was in league with a competitor with no scruples about imitation I’d take a fricking photo anyway – sign or no sign. So all the ‘no photos’ sign ends up doing is irritating people otherwise respectful of the artist who’d love to take a snap to show a friend who they’d know would simply love such a great piece of furniture. More specifically in my case, it also irritates copyright abolitionists who happen to be passing through.

The sign actually shows disrespect to the public, and casts the artist or their agent in a very poor light of anal retentive churlishness.

The funny thing is the artist aka John Bickner, Jr. exhibits his artwork worldwide, so he evidently wants it to be seen, but perhaps he wants fine control over which galleries get to exhibit it, and who precisely gets to see it. Thus uncontrolled photography and photos spreading across the Internet dilute this control and must be prohibited. Doesn’t make sense to me. I have deep linked to the photo above (I dare not copy it, for that would be disrespectful – and probably illegal). We can republish images via deep-links, but we can’t copy the images – it’s insane. And madder still, you get anal retentiveness from Kodak who even take pains to detect and thwart deep-linking to three more examples of the chairs in question.

Considering the rights of the matter (and not the privileges), the shop operates as a public gallery with the right to refuse admission or to eject anyone who doesn’t adhere to their conditions (being regardless of race, etc.). Now this means that anything that is available to the senses of the public visitor is available to be recorded by that visitor (and subsequently performed or reproduced at their leisure, whether privately or publicly) – unless of course, the visitor contracted otherwise prior to entry (entry does not constitute agreement). A shop can eject a visitor for taking photos (if they require this constraint), but they cannot claim ownership of those photos, nor obtain their destruction, unless the visitor took photos of material that was not made available to them (they broke a seal on a book, say). So, I was within my rights to take photos of the chairs (until requested to leave the shop) and publish them on this blog. The only disrespect shown would be to the author of the request against photos. It would not have been shown to the artist of the chair – even if they were the same person. In turn, the request against photos on the pretext of it being disrespectful to the artist shows disrespect to myself as a potential customer or member of the artist’s audience.

If you exhibit to the public, please, respect the public and don’t try to pretend that their photography is disrespectful to the artist. If you want them to abstain from promoting you and your work in order to preserve a niche market then that’s up to you, but be honest about it, e.g. write instead “We do not wish to expand production and already have sufficient custom, so please refrain from taking photos of our chairs to show to your friends as this is liable to increase demand to such an extent that competition results and the uniqueness and value of our product is reduced”. It still doesn’t make much sense though.

I could have walked out of the shop with a good feeling about the chairs and a lot of respect for the artists who made them, but the sign’s disrespect for me queered that pitch considerably.

kimberly said 4519 days ago :

I see your point. I also see the other side. I worked for a Children’s Art Museum. We had an exhibit of wooden sculptures.

One “patron” came in and took photographs, against the contract we had with the artist. We stopped her and she threw a fit, pretty in a 60+ year old woman.

She told us that the artwork was to expensive, (We had a price list for some items) and she was going to take pictures and have her son make some to sell at the area farmer’s market.

I wonder if the artist you saw had similar things happen.

Crosbie Fitch said 4518 days ago :

Kimberly, I can see that the ‘other side’ feels indignant that what was previously their exclusive talent or craft is now joined by a competitor. I can see that a craftsman would be upset that a potential customer claims their work is overpriced and expresses the intention to commission copies of their work. I can see that a few such craftsmen would be inclined to hinder competition by whatever means are available.

In general, I can see that many would find a monopoly in their own particular niche highly advantageous and therefore desirable, which is why, given the availability of patents and copyright, many artisans and merchants obtain and jealously guard them.

However, the issue is not that people find competition irritating and unwelcome, nor that monopolies against it are therefore an attractive solution.

The issue is: why do people feel they have a natural right to a monopoly – a right to constrain all members of the public in order to thwart potential competitors that may be among them?

Such a right cannot be natural since without enforcement by a powerful state no artist could ever expect to enforce the monopolies they might desire – even if they could denounce or deface imitation whenever they chanced upon it. And it seems clear that the public would not at all be inclined to reserve their custom to an original manufacturer rather than also consider inevitably cheaper competitors.

Incidentally, the public can be relied upon to demand to know the truth as to which is an original versus a replica, but they would not willingly surrender the liberty to choose between the two. And when it comes to natural rights, the public vastly outnumbers the solitary artist who’d covet a monopoly by which to subject them. Compare with The People vs RIAA.

For a free and fair market it has long been understood that no trader should be able to interfere with any other trader, operate a cartel, nor reserve trade in a particular good to themselves. Unfortunately, the misguided have instituted specific time-limited monopolies (patent: novel mechanisms; and copyright: original expression) as commercial incentives (at the expense of the public’s liberty), and the merchants who’ve enjoyed them have predictably consolidated and extended them.

In your case, Kimberly, I’d also observe that whatever contract an artist makes with a museum, it cannot bind non-signatories, i.e. members of the public who visit the museum. Either the artist permits exhibition of their sculptures to members of the public or he does not. Members of the public cannot violate a contract they have not agreed to (even if the museum erects signs everywhere saying otherwise). Even Copyright of sculpture cannot prohibit photography, especially when that sculpture is exhibited publicly, and irrespective of the exhibitor’s suspicions that photos are likely to be used for purposes of reproducing the sculpture.

I can well believe that Flat Creek Crossing have had similar things happen to them as have happened to your museum, and that this has inspired them to forbid photography (with whatever power enables them to enforce this – if any). However, although one may expect an artist to prefer a lack of competition, and the cachet of uniqueness this brings, I still cannot see how an artist expects members of the public to equate a denial of photography as a sign of respect to the artist. I can see why they’d want them to, but I don’t see how they can have any hope of this being considered equitable.

“If you truly respected me, you’d not take any photos of my work”

This is an immature exhortation, much like the kind that goes “If you truly loved me, you’d promise never to watch football again”.




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