Before Richard Prince appropriated the photos of Instagram users, and long before the SuicideGirls re-appropriated their photos, the lazy “artist” became famous for stealing re-photographing Sam Abell’s iconic cowboy photos.
Prince took cigarette ads with Abell’s Marlboro Man images and photographed them in a way that basically “cropped” the text and logo out.
With Prince selling one of these photos for almost $1.3 million in 2005 and another for $3.4 million a few years later, he became a millionaire off of Abell’s work – who did not receive a single cent from either deal.
As you’d expect Abell certainly had an opinion on Prince’s actions, as well as the art establishment’s attitude towards stolen art, and he expressed it with admirable calmness.
Below is a video interview from 2008, after his re-photographed image was sold by Prince for a record-breaking $3.4 million:
“I put into it what I put into a photograph, I gave it life”, Abell says at the beginning of the interview. “I gave it its first life, and it’s my photograph. No one would disagree with that”.
Abell goes on to say that he’s not angry, or particularly amused, but Prince’s actions in his case are legal.
As frustrating and illogical as that may be, he’s probably correct. A legal battle between Patrick Cariou and Prince which began in 2008 had its twists and turns before the US Court of Appeals ruled in 2013 that most of Prince’s appropriated works in the case fell under fair use, while they settled the case in 2014 over the remaining few pieces that were to be re-evaluated by the court.
Trying to understand Prince, who copied his photo and make millions of it, Abell reached the conclusion that he must be a ‘cheeky fellow’ – talk about an understatement… The guy just made millions off of Abell’s work and gave him nothing in return!
“It’s obviously plagiarism,” Abell said, and added and that while it might be ok by the law of art or commerce, it’s “breaking the Golden Rule”.
“A secondary thought is,” Abell continues, “a photograph of mine could never be in the Guggenheim museum […] and that is because editorial photography for the most part is considered […] by the Guggenheim and by the art establishment not be not worthy, but copied by someone else it is worthy”.
Wondering why his photos were snubbed by the very same establishments that later proudly presented appropriated versions of them under Prince’s name, Abell stated that “the art world has something to answer for, and I look forward to their answer”.
In addition to the art world, Abell also mentioned that Prince has to now live with himself after breaking the ‘ultimate law’. Judging by Prince’s recent tweet, however, and the fact that galleries continue to display his work, it seems that both Prince and the art world responded with a big fat cup of STFU – as they continue to make a fortune off of other peoples’ work, of course.