350MC – Symposium Script and Video – Definitive Blog Post

by alexmasonphotography

350 MC – Presentation

This presentation is about appropriation, the remix and morals. I would define appropriation as taking a concept and building upon it in order to create a unique element within something. Appropriation is variable depending on the medium. We are bought up in a world where we copy other people. I myself remember copying my brother. We learn to get good at something by practicing it. We trace pictures and shapes of things in in our early years of life and learn how to speak our mother tongue by copying what our parents say. I guess it could be said that copying is in our nature.

“Openness is a commitment to a certain set of values, we need to speak of these values, the value of freedom, it’s value of community, it’s value in the limits in regulation, it’s value in respecting the creator” (Lessig 2010).

I first became interested in the idea of property and authorship whilst planning a film that I am currently in the process of making which is about Freerunning or Parkour. Being the digital native that I am the first thing I did when it came to researching, was type ‘Freerunning’ into Google and I was surprised to learn that the ‘founder’ of ‘freerunning’ is a man called Sebastièn Foucan and I was even more surprised to learn that there is a founder at all. How can somebody be the founder of something that isn’t physical? Am I the author of my film about freerunners? Or is the person who is said to be the founder of freerunning the author? I found it interesting that somebody can be the founder or originator of something that is arguably just an advance on walking. A cave man jumped over a log, was he freerunning? After discussing this issue with a couple of the participants in my film, they said that this is both a common and controversial topic within the culture of freerunning.

In the teaser video I made for the film I am working on, I filmed a shot of the subject’s hand touching the long grass to add to the atmosphere and dream like mood I was trying to create. At the time I thought this was an ‘original’ quirky idea and shortly after having put together the edit for the film, I watched a film Dagdruamer (a film about body boarders) and realised that we had composed a similar shot. I then realised that I had also seen it in Gladiator, so it is possible to be the subconscious thief and ‘steal’ an idea without even meaning to and I know I am not the only one who has had an experience like this. It happens in many areas of creativity, film TV, music to name a few.

The word original is used a lot when I’m not sure whether it should be. If you are somebody that believes in originality I think it might be fair to say that none of these presentations being shown today including this one, are original. They are merely a reflection on research that other people have made. “We drive into the future using only our rear-view mirror” (McLuhan 1967) meaning, we only recognise new media from media that already exists and has already been discovered. The folders on the desktops of your computers for instance. The designers of computers knew that these were good ways of storing things because it has worked in the physical world for decades.

Appropriating work is something that strikes me as an important topic with authorial identity. Kirby Ferguson mentions in his Ted talk ‘Embracing the Remix’ that Bob Dylan who has often been described as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, musically and culturally has used the same melody in in his songs as that of another folk musician from before he was around and has even used the same lyrics as another artist in his famous song Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright. I found another example of when somebody has borrowed a melody and put it in a song. It is difficult to find the balance between the remix and stealing and often it may not be stated clearly enough. Listen to this classic Johnny cash song ring of fire and now listen to this Toots and the Maytals song – I can’t believe… Notice the similarity?

Toots and the Maytals – I Can’t Believe – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_XRDV9etDE

Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIBTg7q9oNc

On YouTube we see videos of young up and coming musicians with a title like ‘John Smith – Clowns Parade (Original Song)’. When what it really is, is a song that has been written based on inspiration, melodies, themes and lyrics from other people’s songs. David Bowie was once asked in an interview if he would consider himself original and he said, “No no no I am a tasteful thief”.

Artist and writer Austin Kleon describes appropriation as ‘stealing like an artist’. There isn’t anyone who hasn’t snipped anything out of a newspaper or magazine and now during the rise of the digital age there isn’t likely to be anyone who doesn’t have stolen music, images and other types of media on their computers. Austin also says that the artist is a selective collector, we gather ideas, words, images. In Kleon’s case he was having a case of writers block and decided to steal words from newspapers and black out the text that he didn’t want, he would then upload these to his blog and would receive criticism for not being an original writer/artist.  After doing some research he then found out that not only was his idea of taking words from newspapers unoriginal to himself but it had already been happening for 250 years. Visually the idea works well and there is definitely a creative process within this, the words that Kleon chooses to keep revealed make me ponder the potential for deeper meaning.

When we copy we justify it when others copy we disapprove of it. ”Most of us have no problem copying, as long as we’re the ones doing it” (Ferguson 2013)

Ideas are based on shared knowledge. Without somebody inventing the wheel and noticing it’s ability to roll than we wouldn’t have cars. The same principle applies to CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs with the fortune he has made for the business. If people hadn’t spent years researching touch screen electronics than his fortune wouldn’t stand where it does today. With electronics and digitalised products not having been about for long, it has only recently been possible to get a digital patent so during the rise of the digital era there’s were numerous occasions when people weren’t given the credit they possibly deserved. When patents for software were created, companies would write out their patents in the broadest language possible to get the highest possible protection with no areas uncovered. 62% of all patent lawsuits are now over software. This is due to the vague manner that they are written in. The overall money loss through these kind of things going to court is $500,000,000,000. So people and organisations start to try and find flaws in electronic patents to generate an income.

Conceptual artist Sherrie Levine shocked the art world in 1979 with her After Walker Evans photographs. Walker Evans photographed the Burroughs, a family of sharecroppers in the Depression era and his photographs were published in a book that became the quintessential record of the rural American poor. In 1979 Levine re-photographed Evans’ photographs and without any manipulation of the images she presented them in an exhibition of her work. In 2001 Michael Mandiberg created a web site, AfterSherrieLevine.com, which appropriates from Levine’s many appropriations of the photographs of Walker Evans.

An artist called Mishka Henner created a photo book called Less Americains based on a classic body of work Les Americains by Robert Frank. Henner controversially appropriated Frank’s photos by erasing certain parts of the image to create surreal ghostly images. The title Henner chose is asking to be questioned and criticized and suggests that Henner new the controversy of his practice. Reviews on the work such as “So bad it’s unbelievable” and “the work is rubbish” suggest the anger that people have about appropriation or theft. This is an example of appropriation that works well because although arguably Henner has stolen images and altered them by erasing he isn’t trying to claim the work as original and there is certainly evidence of creativity. He has transformed photos into images. I actually enjoy looking at Henners appropriated versions of Franks photos, they make me think, reflect and question what why he has erased certain parts and not others.

Not only is appropriation a common practice in the art world now, but it is almost as if it is encouraged by the art world. People have been rewarded with prizes for appropriation (or stealing as some people call it). Glenn Brown has been short listed for the Turner Prize, the appropriation artists have been discussed in Artforum, Art in America, Flash Art and other major art criticism venues as well as established galleries hosting exhibitions of the appropriated art. I suppose it’s a bit like tribute bands being appreciated by the general public.

Conceptual appropriation artist, Elaine Sturtevant displays a more blatant example of appropriation/theft. Would copy other people’s artwork for example the iconic Andy Warhol picture of Marilyn Monroe. She would allow one deliberate mistake in her copies to distinguish her pieces from the originals. It seems as if Sturtevant’s intention here was to challenge appropriation and theft and almost make a mockery of appropriation art in general. It seems more controversial to draw on or appropriate the works of successful practitioners. If somebody went and drew some stuff on some of my work nobody other than me would care. So maybe when we look at work that has a significant meaning for example some photojournalistic photos of starving African families one would feel less inclined to start erasing parts of the photo because they are photos that we associate with real life. We look at Andy Warhols work because we like Marilyn Monroe; we look at photojournalism because we care about the stories that are told.

Maybe some creative people are more careful about how they copy other people’s work and steal ideas and like I mentioned earlier may even be that subconscious thief.  I for one have experienced trying and trying to come up with something original, an original story to tell within my images or films but when planning my original concept always seem to end up looking at other peoples work for inspiration.  Again even after I have finished a body of work I notice things in there that relate to other peoples works.

“The demand for originality is an extrinsic pressure directed at the artist by society” (Irvin 2005)

Although I have mentioned several examples of appropriation, it is important to understand that appropriation differs depending on the medium. Music is almost expected to be appropriated, people covering songs for example and articles in newspapers are expected to be rewritten but under the authors own by-line.

So, surely we can’t all be thieves? Or maybe we are and maybe that is just how it is. Are we thieves for copying our parents and siblings? One associates the word “theft” with crime, prison and something that you shouldn’t do and are told not to do from a very young age.  I suppose a certain amount of it comes down to morals. I think we have the right to copy and build upon something as long as we are aware of where our influences, inspiration and materials are coming from. I would feel comfortable with people building upon and remixing my work as long as I am credited for it clearly.

We need copying to build a foundation of understanding, nobody starts out original. It’s not to say that copying is a bad thing, if people didn’t copy ideas then we wouldn’t have cars or telephones or other appliances and functioning things that we take for granted every day. Objects and ideas come about by the combination of many peoples thoughts, and progressions.  We are all building with the same materials.

Evaluation of The Symposium 

On February 26th IMG 19 held a symposium event at the Herbert At Gallery in Coventry. As a group we covered concepts in photography that are listed below on the beautifully designed flyer.


My presentation ‘Reflection on Appropriation’ was presented as a video. It was a great way to show the audience and my tutors how I can collect information as well as reflect and structure it.

I was asked by my colleague Lee Hassall whether I thought that my openness to let people remix and build upon my work would devalue it somewhat. My view was that at this early stage of my career I would be happy with people with people remixing my work and building upon it, I need as much exposure as I can get so to not let people have access to my work would restrict my chances of people seeing my work. George Rippon followed up by asking me whether I thought that copying and appropriation are the same thing and I was slightly hesitant to leap in with a definitive answer as I am still working on what the difference is. I did say that I think blatant copying like Elaine Sturtevants appropriations of Andy Warhol were possibly worse than people taking visible concepts from an artists song for example because it seems more aggressive somehow and it doesn’t take as much creativity as writing a song and using obvious inspiration.

Another colleague of mine Hollie Woodward asked me “Why I thought people felt so angry about appropriation? I think it is because people don’t really know what appropriation is so as soon as somebody recognises something that they think is copying and they think it is bad they start to rant about how they have “ripped off The Beatles” for example but everyone “rips” off each other as far as I am concerned, we are all building with the same materials.

I sent a new Coldplay video to a friend of mine that I know hates Coldplay and Chris Martin, I wanted his thoughts on the song because it is quite different to a lot of their previous stuff.

He replied…

he’s ripped off Bon Iver…
i actually can’t believe it.
that bastard!
He then went on to update his status to…
This is exactly what I mean when I say people don’t know what appropriation is. I then went on a bit of a rant to my good friend Anthony quoting large chunks of my presentation to him. We are all thieves!
The whole day was a huge success and with Shaun Hides (Head of Dept of Media at Coventry University) saying “You have set the bar extremely high for next years Symposium” it left the group feeling euphoric and in high spirits.


Alexander Adams . (2013). All smoke and mirrors?. Available from <http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/All-smoke-and-mirrors/2896>. [30th Jan 2014]

Austin Kleon . (2012). Steal Like An Artist. Available from <http://blog.ted.com/2012/08/10/14-brilliant-quotes-on-remixing/> Last accessed 18 Nov 2013.

Allan Wilson. (2011) Dagdraumer <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MD42Q_w57Zc&gt; [December 2013]

Jeffrey Ladd. (2012). Retouching a Classic: ‘Less Américains’.Available from <http://lightbox.time.com/2012/03/22/retouching-a-classic-less-americains/#3> [28th Jan 2014]

Johnny Cash (1963) ‘Ring Of Fire‘ <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIBTg7q9oNc> %5B10th Jan 2014]

John Hoda. (2013). Re-Blogging vs Copyright Infringement. Available from <http://savvybookwriters.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/re-blogging-vs-copyright-infringement/> [16th Nov 2013]

Kinally (December 2013) Chris Kinally and Mark Woodland discussed the controversy of Sebastian Foucan claiming to be the founder of freerunning and how it is frowned upon in the community of freerunning.

Kirby Ferguson. (2012). Embracing The Remix. Available from <http://www.ted.com/talks/kirby_ferguson_embrace_the_remix.html> [18th Nov 2013]

Kirby Ferguson. (2012).  Everything is a Remix. Available from <https://vimeo.com/25380454&gt;  [12th Jan 2014]

Lawrence Lessig . (2010). Re-examining the remix. Available from <http://www.ted.com/talks/lessig_nyed.html> [14th Nov 2013]

Oxford Dictionaries . (). Definition of author in English. Available from <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/author> [10th Nov 2013]

Sean O’Hagan. (2012). ‘Mishka Henner’s erased images: art or insult?’. The Guardian [online] Available from <http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/may/23/mishka-henner-less-americains> [6th Feb 2014]

Sherri Irvin . (2005). Appropriation and Authorship in Contemporary Art. British J Aesthetics . 45 (5), 12-17.

Toots and The Maytals (1973)  ‘I Can’t Believe’ <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_XRDV9etDE&gt; [10th Jan 2014]

Woodland (December 2013) Mark Woodland and Chris Kinally discussed the controversy of Sebastian Foucan claiming to be the founder of freerunning and how it is frowned upon in the community of freerunning.