Hi, I’m An Artist. Please Don’t Look At My Work.

My last blog post was about copyright. I was planning to next write about “creative commons” license and why sometimes you might actually want to have your picture “stolen”. I’m still planning on writing about that, but something happened yesterday that kind of goes along with that concept.   

The Baldwin Park Arts Festival took place Saturday, March 13. As a photographer for Baldwin Park Living Magazine, I have an understanding with the editor to document as many events as I can for the publication and the community Web site photo gallery.   

The Arts Fest features local artists selling their work on an entire block in the heart of Baldwin Park. So I get there and I’m just not feeling it. I walked up the length of one side of the street and started down the other without having taken a single picture. Maybe these arts and crafts shows just aren’t my thing. Then I get to a lady painting and I think “great, an action shot”. A shot of someone doing something. So I take a picture. I walk a little farther and there’s another artist painting. I snap another picture…   

Artist Painting at Baldwin Park Arts Fest

click for larger image

He turns around and says, “Thanks for the exposure.” I take a second to figure out if he’s making a photography pun. I decide he’s not and tell him I’m with Baldwin Park Magazine. He says thanks again.   

Ok, so now I’m warming up. I’ve taken a few pictures at this point when I see a girl with some money in her hand. This would be a great opportunity to get a shot of a sale. I spent almost a decade in broadcast news and I know that photojournalism is about telling a story; and isn’t the whole idea of this thing for artists to sell their work? I mean, it’s not a gallery exhibition. Let’s face it, if no one buys anything today, the event is a failure. This is literally “the money shot”.  

So I take a picture…   

woman buying jewelry at Baldwin Park Arts Fest

click for larger image

I realize I didn’t compose properly; cutting off the girl’s head and getting an arm in the shot. So I recompose and I’m waiting for the right moment when the lady whose arm is in the shot turns around and says “no pictures please”. I tell her I’m with Baldwin Park Magazine and she says the artists don’t want pictures taken. I explain to her that this is a public area and that I have the right to take pictures. We go back and forth for a few minutes and I walk away.   

First of all, I wasn’t taking pictures of the art work; some kind of jewelry I suppose. I was taking a picture of the transaction. Secondly, the picture is for editorial, not commercial use. Third, as a former journalist I know all about expectation of privacy and fair use. Lastly, if you don’t want your work seen, then stay home, don’t display your work in public or on the web and pray to god that someone finds your art. Is the fear that I’m going to go home, study the picture and copy the creation? 

Hey, I get it. I’m a photographer. Everytime I post a picture online, be it my web siteFlickr or Facebook, there’s a chance someone will “steal” it. But there’s also a chance that someone who’s never heard of me will see my work. To protect myself, I take steps to guard my copyright. But I don’t take pictures so I can stuff them in a lock box. Isn’t that the proverbial ostrich with its head in the ground?   

So I walk around a bit more and take another picture…   

Art at the Baldwin Park Arts Fest

click for large image

Again, the artist comes up to me and says “no pictures”. I tell him who I am and he says it’s ok. I asked him why I wouldn’t be allowed and he says, “with a camera like that, people can make good copies”. Ok, so I guess the thinking is that I’m going to sell a picture of his work? And would it be ok if I took a picture with, say, an 8 megapixel point-and-shoot? Couldn’t I make a good copy with that? What if I wanted to take a picture of someone with the art in the background? Would that be offensive?   

This reminded me of a similar event I attended last year. A photographer had a booth set up and his pictures featured black and white images of statues. I thought, wow, that’s interesting. He didn’t sculpt the statue, he just took a picture of it and is selling it.   

That issue is actually at the center of a lawsuit. You can read more about it at the Photo Attorney Blog. That case is a little different because I am there strictly for editorial reasons. Taking a picture of your art does not violate your copyright. What I do with that picture may or may not.   

Bottom line: That first guy got it. He thanked me for the exposure. He took a look at my DSLR and assumed I was with some media organization before I even told him who I was. The pictures I take will be featured on a magazine spread that goes out to tens of thousands of Baldwin Park residents. What’s that you say? You don’t want free advertisement?   

So now I want to hear from you. What do you think?

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One thought on “Hi, I’m An Artist. Please Don’t Look At My Work.

  1. Loved this post. Though I see their points of view, I agree with you. Funny about the guy who took a photo of someone else’s art (sculpture) and would be bothered by a photographer taking event photos. It takes all kinds, I guess.

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