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Friday, 06 May 2016


This is one of those no-punches-pulled, cards-on-the-table posts that sounds like it was banged out in a bar after a few beers and a couple of stinky cigars. Which is to say, my favorite kind of post. More beers! Free Mike Johnston!

It's good you've said it. "Bah" is right. Her photography should be shown to the world. It's amazing that her, I can't say it any other way other than a 'gift to humanity', is held up by legal wranglings. She was a recluse, but her work can bring so much joy to people. Set it free!

Looks like David Deal made a deal !

Hear, hear, Mike! Hear, hear!

I wholeheartedly agree, and couldn't have put it better myself.

To quote Paul Simon, "I'll repeat myself at the risk of being crude": I agree with your sentiment about art belonging to the universe and all, but the law working in this case is EXACTLY the same as the law in the case of the 8-bit cover of Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" album (Kind of Bloop, if I recall correctly - a Jay Maisel photograph).

You can't really applaud one case and dismiss the other. I thought that Kind of Blue case was also outrageous (not really that it "belonged to the universe" or anything, just outrageous), but the sentiment among photographers in that case was rather different. "They should pay!", well maybe. But in that case, John Maloof should too.

His case compares rather neatly to this one: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/07/27/ansel.adams.discovery/index.html. And just like Norsegian did not buy the copyright in the pictures he got the negatives of (it requires a different sort of property transfer, depending on where it happens), Maloof can only get the copyright in the prescribed way if he wants it. That means, from ms. Maier's heirs.

So, how do you *really* feel, Mike? No need to beat about the bush...

Can I put in a word in favor of reclusive artists? If doing the work brings joy, does it matter if the world knows who did it? Would I even want to be "well known"? That seems to come with all kinds of costs, and few benefits to me.

I've been thinking a lot about these questions this week - this isn't idle internet comment rhetoric. The dominant paradigm is that one is to seek notoriety by building a strong 'brand' on the internet, in order to sell prints, or workshops or ads or billable hours. The price is giving away free stuff, paying for ad/editorial placement, and the attention of obessive fans. This seems like a complex, counterintuitive, process that nets me things I don't want (stalkers, bookkeepers), and deprives me of things I do want (time to make pictures, spend with my family, peace of mind.) Why would I make such a trade?

Good for Vivian, that she didn't have to deal with all that. It's too bad she ran out of funds to develop all of her work, but that's more of a problem of bad luck than a problem with her (shudder) 'business model'. It would have been nice for us, of couse, if at the time, she'd had good gallery representation, and a few modest print runs at Steidl, but that would have served our purposes better than hers. If she was our contemporary? Well, I'm sure her doppelgänger is alive today, quietly filling hard drives as we speak. No doubt happily away from the attentions of anonymous men on twitter or gear forums.

Good for you, if you find yourself reading this: I wish you great happiness in your photography.

Amen! The real money grabbers are the lawyer who questioned the ownership and the county trying to lay claim after the fact. John and Jeff did all the work to make the work known.

Nicely done Mike.


Amen to that.
Copyright is important, but copyright absolutism ridiculous.

I don't think it's nearly as simple as that. US Copyright law doesn't recognize "finders keepers" as a precept.

Maloof has indeed done some impressive work, at tremendous personal effort and expense. And I have no reason to believe that he did so as a profiteer.

But Maloof crossed the copyright line many times in the process. He was, at least at times, aware of that -- he went to a lot of trouble to get approval from a presumed heir in France and was working with another.

The US copyright law is a mess, mainly concerned with keeping profits flowing to corporate rights-holders. It doesn't deal well with situations like this one. That doesn't seem likely to change, though.

On a separate matter, "what would they rather, that the raw material just go from the storage locker to the landfill?" assumes that there was only one alternative. The strictly legal alternative would have been for Maloof to keep the Maier works, or sell them, but not to reproduce them. It was in reproducing, and publishing, them that he crossed the legal lines.

Developing, printing, and scanning would technically have been violations, but if he'd quietly kept the copies for himself, there probably wouldn't have been any complaints. Of course, not much would've happened, either.

Maloof engaged, knowingly, I think, in civil disobedience because he believed in his cause. As a child of the Sixties, I approve.

I agree Mike. The idea of going looking for "heirs" who have no idea that they are remotely related to her is an absurd distortion of copyright. If John Maloof hadn't already tried to find her relatives it would be one thing, but for some unrelated person(s) to insist that he didn't try hard enough strikes me as nothing more than attempt to quash her life's work.

FWIW (and I'm sure there will be objections to my comparison) Vincent van Gogh sold only two paintings in his lifetime and his influence at the time was not large until after his death. Good work is good work no matter who made it. We should have access to it and John Maloof is the one who labored to give us that access.

AMEN!!! And pass the Tri-X please?

In the current show at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson a print of a photo by Maier is on display. The show is a retrospective covering the Center's history and the Maier print is in a section of new acqusitions. The rest of the show includes all the big names (Ansel Adams, Gene Smith, etc,), so perhaps this means that Maier is gaining acceptance in the "official" photography world.

I've followed this story here at TOP and watched the documentary on Netflix. It sounds to me like someone should broker a deal between the Heirs and Maloof. For instance Maloof be re-imbursed out of profits for all time and monies spent to get things to this point. The heirs appoint him curator of all future deals for a share of future profits (½?) Some sort of signing bonus for him for the preservation and acting in good faith. The world would be a better place.

To be perfectly blunt, I am pretty sure that Maloof is in fact the real artist here. I have seen no convincing evidence that Maier was herself anything special, other than being a competent technician who made an incredible number of exposures while pointing the camera in likely directions.

Clearly there is a spectrum which starts with, I don't know, a cat with a camera on one end and some mythic version of Cartier-Bresson on the other. Incredible books of photographs can come from anywhere in the spectrum, but the labor of editing and selection, and the number of raw exposures required, go up rapidly as you get closer to the cat.

Where Maier lies on the spectrum is something we're not likely to ever know, because it is not in the interest of the relevant parties to reveal this. Maloof and the other chap are engaged in myth-making, and they're unlikely to allow access to the whole archive. It's not clear there's any value to looking at it anyways.

The work, in its curated and edited form, exists, and it's good. Copyright law makes it clear where credit must go. Everything else is fussing over largely unknowable details.

But I still suspect that the editors are the genuine article here, and Maier is a convenient figure on which to paste a myth.

The real problem is the crazy copyright laws which were butchered several years ago to benefit Disney (and other greedy purveyors of work which they did not create), in the pretense of protecting poor Irving Berlin's early works.
As usual, the public loses!

Law often doesn't deal really well with unusual cases; they either weren't considered at all, or the ways to cope with them open up too many loopholes for common cases, or something (probably some of each).

I think a question that should be examined more often, and considered when making laws (and ideally when enforcing laws; that might need some specific legal backing), is: does this law block people from creating art? If so, that's a strike against it. Does this law keep people from creating value? That's a strike against it.

The Maier work has value in the marketplace, to a very large extent, due to the work of Maloof.

Amen to Atget, but I do want to hear mention of another rescued photographer - Mike Disfarmer, work is infinitely more moving and striking to my eye than Vivian Maier's. Moving to such an extent, indeed, that it's brought tears to my eyes - perhaps aided in part by Bill Frisell's excellent album of the same name.

I wonder how many other musical odes there are to photographers? I can only think of one, Philip Glass's The Photographer.

Thank you Mike for this very informative writings. It will be a big help for me as i am planning to create my blog. More power to you

This makes my blood boil. I quote from the Tribune Article "" Hopefully, this means people can start to enjoy Vivian Maier's work again without things being tied up in court," Deal said."" Really ??? If gready Mr Deal had left well enough alone, a lot more of her work would have been viewed by now, and Mr Maloofs energy would have been spent on her works instead of the most rediculous court case. Yay Mr Maloof. Yay Vivian. And pee on Mr Deal. Just goes to show, there is no common sense to the legal system any more. ( there, all vented now, feel much better )

There are too many artists out there being mostly famous, more aware of marketing and business matters than art per se.
Nice to have an unknown artist in VM capable of great work, not capable of self promoting and money deals.

We have moved far away from the concept of the art work being the essence at hand, towards the art of art commerce and TV type personality cults. In that sense VM is an exciting breath of fresh air!

"I have seen no convincing evidence that Maier was herself anything special, other than being a competent technician who made an incredible number of exposures while pointing the camera in likely directions." -Andrew Molitor

Yeah, well, a lot of photography is just that- knowing where (and when) to point the camera. Guess ya don't much like where and when she did it, but that criticism alone doesn't exactly offer any insight into why not. Editing is part and parcel of the creative process, and there's certainly enough quantity presented to forward the fact that she knew what she was doing, and quality (in others' opinion) that she did it exceedingly well.

As to "myth making," I think Mr. Maloof has done a most commendable job in presenting the facts, there would be no "myth" if not for the quality of her work,

Be very, very afraid of academia. For many areas of higher education, you now have an entire university system of people who are teaching certain disciplines having never actually done those things, they just kept going to school until they degree'd out enough to teach it! This is true absolutely in "art".

The "art business" as in many other areas, has created a box for itself, so that people can learn how things "should be" (and they can study those absolutes, be tested in those absolutes, and get a grade on knowing those absolutes), and anything that doesn't constrict itself to those limitations must not be viable!

God forbid that people run around higglety-piggelty buying stuff they like and hanging it on their walls to look at, unvetted by "experts"! Has the world gone mad!

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