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Wednesday, 11 February 2015


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Oh my! I may be honored, I think, to be held up as a good example of a possibly bad thing.

Before thinking that through further, or reading any comments, a small clarification. As soon as I posted my comment, I realized a part of it makes no sense. "I wonder if the original of this image might have been [toned]. Pure B&W, as this is on screen ..."

The original as presented in Mike's post IS toned. I had spent enough time messing with the diptych, where the B&W half is not toned, that I had momentarily forgotten.

Mea Culpa

i like gentle color, i think in the original black and white the "beauty spots" are more prominent and ugly.

I prefer the BW (though I'd probably make different value choices), but the various subtle versions are ones I could probably get accustomed to, or wouldn't mind if I hadn't seen the BW version. That's the trouble, really: color to some extent is like salt, treble boost, oily fish or single malt whiskey--an acquired taste (or tolerance), for better or worse.

Then there's that whole George Lucas "vandalizing his own movies" brouhaha. I don't recall that you've weighed in, Mike (or if you even saw the pictures in question, to be able to do so). What's fascinating and relevant about that ruckus is that it questions whether even the artist retains "moral ownership", at least for certain kinds of work.

It's a unique case, as far as I know. I don't know of any other filmmaker who has added nonoriginal content years after their movie had been released. Few would have the legal right, even if they could get the financial backing. Hitchcock remade his movies entire, "from scratch". "Director's cuts" and "extended cuts", by definition, have the cachet of originals.

In commercial music, on the other hand, it's not that unusual for originating artists to produce remixes or even new versions of their work.

However, what seems to makes Lucas' revisions so offensive to some and so unique is that he has managed to effectively erase the originals from the commercial and public sphere. That's a level of contempt that no colorizer, sampler, appropriator or pirate has exhibited, or could manage.

First, I'm not keen on "colorization" because none of the samples I've seen remove the gray tones in the skin and replace them with naturalistic browns and oranges. The continued presence of the gray provides conflicting information between modeling (which is rendered correctly) and skin tone (which is not, and therefore looks dirty.)

Second, I take a dim view of "moral rights", and I call myself an artist. In this world of digital copies of images, so long as the original is available and credited to it's original creator, I do not necessarily have a problem with alternate versions created by others. The vast majority of art is derivative, and would scarcely be comprehensible if it were not.*

Photography does present a problem because it presents literally unique images that are not necessarily artistically original, or even novel. I don't see the same conflation of uniqueness and originality in painting or sculpture. Or ceramics, almost at all - each piece is necessarily a unique item, literally one of a kind, but all are thoroughly embedded in the technical limitations of the materials and process, and all kinds of meaning is still transmitted even when the ostensible form (e.g. a teapot) is conventional.

Certainly, this version of Nadar's portrait is not what Nadar would have seen in any prints he would have made - the tones and acutance present do not seem plausible for the photographic papers of the time. (It may be a much closer reproduction of what Nadar saw in person.)

I do strongly believe in the commercial rights of artists. I have a problem with profit-seeking opportunists. The rules surrounding profiting off of derivative works, and trademark law, serve as a clumsy shield against such scammers. I don't like the current implementation very well, but I like the scammers less.

I wish you well, and hope you take this message of disagreement in the kind spirit I intend.

*insert huge digression here about Picasso, colonialism, cultural appropriation, the meaning of "genre", the debt modern soundtracks owe to the musicals of the 1960's, and on and on.

The colourisation is no more 'real' than the black and white/toned original: it just 'colours' ones view of an already abstract representation. To me, it offers nothing towards any insight or enhancement of the portrait and what it may show us and I cannot appreciate it is as a standalone piece. An eye candy variation that I shan't willingly seek out. I understand other viewpoints, but something that enters the stream doesn't necessarily enrich it, it can also pollute. (Sorry, was that a bit strong ?)
Pip, pip.


I'm mostly with Moose on this, and Trecento had some good points, too. If the "new" version is recognized as a riff on an older version, and the new artist doesn't try to sell it as entirely his own, then it seems okay to me. I also recognize (as I'm sure Moose does) that black-and-white *isn't* color, and that adding color does in some sense violate what the original artist's intent -- even if then original artist didn't have access to color (if he did, he would have visualized the photo it some other way.)

To pick on Adams again, "Moonrise" would be an entirely different photo in color, and perhaps even an inane one.

Also, new and legitimate pieces of art can emerge from riffs on older art, even when the older art is easily recognized as the inspiration. (One of the most famous and revolutionary pieces of 19th century art, Manet's "Le Dejeuner Sur l'Herbe," was a riff on a drawing by Raphael...and Raphael's drawing, which wasn't much, would be an obscure and mostly forgotten sketch if not for Manet. And need I mention Andy Warhol's soup cans?)

The same is obviously true in music:

As is often the case, the ethics of riffing on an existing work comes down to intent. I suspect Springsteen rather enjoys that Town Mountain cover, just as I enjoyed Moose's new coloration of the Liszt portrait.

I think I read somewhere that Ansel (and others) left a number of negatives that he never printed. How would that factor into your "moral ownership" position? Should those negatives never be printed by anyone?

[To be presented as his artwork? Of course not. For scholarly interest, perhaps. --Mike]

People always start messing up my work as soon as they look at the pictures, thinking their thoughts.

I'm going to leave this subject for greater minds (and taller waders ;-> )

But I will observe that moving your cursor between the "Subtle Color" and "Eyes From Color Version" buttons on Moose's comparison makes it look as if Lizst is reading a teleprompter!

Dear Folks,

Two ancillary observations:

1)Do not misread what Mike said about transformative works. He is not saying that colorization (or for that matter monochromization) is transformative. In fact, it is not. That is very solidly established in law. Those are purely derivative works. If you colorize a photograph that is under copyright, you don't get to promulgate or publish it without the permission of the copyright holder.

2) Analogies to music rights are very dangerous. Copyright law as it applies to music has very substantial differences from the law as it applies to visual works. You will almost certainly find yourself in error if you attempt to draw guidance for photographic use from musical use.


Dear Gordon,

Adams, in fact, wanted students of photography to be able to print from his negatives after he was dead. They would not, of course, be Ansel Adams prints, but he was entirely in favor of the idea.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Being a musician and a composer, I'm with Moose in this. But more than that, I think that the heart and origin of this debate is the fierce humanism and individualism of the western culture.

Any meaningful art is not the manifestation of the individual self, but of our common experience, and as such, doesn't really belong to anyone. Of course I understand that copyrights are necessary for the artist to be able to live on his or her art, and some public recognition is usually also necessary for motivation.

Art is a central part of my life and I do recognize it's great worth. I do not think that an artist should be deluded into thinking that he or she is the owner of their art in more than a transitory, financial sense.

I seem to recall hearing Adams himself saying that same thing in this documentary from 1983 ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdCq-1MJmHw ) But I dont' have time to go through it right now to check... Maybe someone else does?

"the creator of a work of art retains "moral ownership" of his or her artwork, and for other people to modify it is, on an ethical level, disrespectful." So what is a work of art? Who gets to say? To the extent that the work (whether "art" or not) represents and is understood to represent a statement made by a person, then yes, that person does have moral ownership. But ownership doesn't necessarily imply immutability. It's entirely possible to make a work with the express intention of having it modified and extended by others. It's also possible that the creator does not care if someone else extends, modifies, builds on the work. (This is apart from copyright issues, which have to do with money, not moral ownership.) Colorizing Nadar's work may or may not be disrespectful. We don't know his intention and his feelings about the work. If we carry the notion that modification is disrespectful to its logical conclusion, any copying or reproduction (for instance displaying a representation of an image digitally on a photo blog) is disrespectful. I think the core issue is lying. If I have modified someone else's work, whether with or without permission, and represented it as their work only, or my work only, I've lied. If I've colorized Nadar, and said that's what I've done, I haven't hurt Nadar, and I haven't lied. You may prefer the original (I do) but that's a matter of esthetics, not ethics.

now i like Glenn Brown version, but i still prefer gentle color. i think it is good to use tricks to flatter a photo but it is better not to alter the reality. if i can persuade myself that the Nadar beauty spots were applied in a makeup session (before let's say, a play) and so they are artificial, i will prefer the black and white version of Glenn Brown rather than a colored "spotless" one.

I thought people over 100 only came in black and white (usually discoloured, dog eared and faded also) or is it they turn black and white after death? Oh well, live and learn.

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