Re-structuring power

Grace Scully

#Spectator | #Exhibition | #Social_curation | #Copyright | #Appropriation

Anna-Kaisa Rastenberger argues the affective nature of photography is grounded in the spectators' view of the world, emphasising the connection between the physicality of photographs and how they are displayed in exhibitions (2018, p.111) . She elaboratei in interviews on her interest in 'how and why we distribute images in physical form' (Feuerhelm, 2019).

Figure 1: The Treachery of Images (This is not a pipe) / La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) by Renee Magritte, LACMA, 1929.

Rastenberger (2018, p.111) cites Sarah Kember who, working in the field of digital media, had theorised photography’s relationship with reality and digital manipulation two decades prior. She (2018, p.111) rebutes concerns about photography’s reliability citing debates decades previously that the real is “lost in the act of representation”. Figure 1 (Renee Magritte, 1929) illustrates this. This theory can be associated with Walter Benjamin’s argument that the “aura” is lost in the photographic reproduction.

Figure 2: Tyler Mitchell's I Can Make You Feel Good at ICP by Joseph Rovegno, International Centre of Photography, 2020.

Rastenberger (2018, p.112) stresses the importance of the spectators emotional reaction to photographs. She (2018, p.112) argues that it is no longer relevant to assume a neutral spectator, that it is essential to account for diverse backgrounds and worldviews. Rastenberger (2018, p.112) theorises that rejecting conformities and boundaries could be implemented within exhibition spaces, thus experimenting with the limits of what can be displayed and how. Tyler Mitchell’s recent exhibition (Joseph Rovegno, 2020, Figure 2) represents creative ways of displaying photographs. As a Professor of Exhibition Studies Rastenberger uses her authority to create change in the functionality of exhibitions. She (Feuerhelm, 2019) emphasises there must be changes in positions of power, which is predominantly “white educated middle class middle aged privileged (wo)man”, acknowledging she is part of that group.

Figure 3: Yes Rasta by Patrick Cariou, 2000, and Canal Zone by Richard Prince, 2008.

In this chapter Eric Schrijver outlines copyright critique and how this is carried out by artists, critics, and the legal system. He (2019, p.163) argues what can be considered, morally, to be acceptable copying (“homage”, “inspiration”) and what is not (“imitation”, “rip-off”, “derivative”). The copyright case between Cariou and Prince (Patrick Cariou, 2000, and Richard Prince, 2008, Figure 3) is an example of this. Schrijver (2019, p.166) gives examples of artists' works that have appropriated other works; Richard Prince’s Marlboro Man (1980-1990s), Deborah Bright’s Dream Girls (1989-1990), and Shigeyuki Kihara’s Ulugali’i Samoa - Samoan Couple (2005). He (2019, p.167) argues how Sherrie Levine’s After Walker Evans series was permitted due to Evans creating the series while he was working as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration. This meant the photographs are in the public domain and are free for anyone to use and reuse. Awareness of copyright law was a factor in Levine’s appropriation of Evan’s work (Schrijver, 2019, p.167). Contrasting appropriation and cultural appropriation, Schrijver (2019, p.167) defines cultural appropriation as when the creator of the work is someone of privilege who copies aspects of the work of someone less privileged. Photographer Alexandra Watson (2019), in countering claims of “artistic freedom”, argues that photographers have a responsibility to create work that does not misappropriate another culture. Schrijver (2019, p.167) argues that the original understanding of appropriation, pre 2000s, was that of the artist taking on a larger entity such as “capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy” and thus was deemed acceptable . But in recent years it is recognised that the artist can occupy spaces of power and this must be taken into account.

Figure 4: Vogue Italia November 2015 by Steven Meisel, 2015.

Schrijver (2019, p.168) details Céline Semaan, an Arab woman, fashion activist and designer, critique of designer Marine Serre’s use of hijab in her show, notably the main image circulated being a white woman who Semaan argued has the choice whether or not to wear it. Semaan (2018) criticises instances of cultural appropriation as she argues it “reinforces oppressive power relations". Schrijver (2019, p.168) argues furthermore that the designer Serre’s apolitical stance is concerning. The fashion industry is no stranger to cases of cultural appropriation; see Gigi Hadid’s Vogue Italia shoot (Steven Meisel, 2015, Figure 4). Copyright law rarely overlaps with cultural appropriation due to copyright only applying to the work of an individual artist not the idea (Schrijver, 2019, p.168).

Figure 5: Barack Obama by Mannie Garcia, 2006, and Hope Poster by Shepard Fairey, 2008.

Schrijver (2019, p.169) defines plagiarism as copying another’s work and passing it off as your own. Shepard Fairey not accrediting Mannie Garcia’s photograph (Mannie Garcia, 2006, and Shepard Fairey, 2008, Figure 5) as inspiration for his poster resulted in a court case. The overarching feature between appropriation, plagiarism, and cultural appropriation is the intention behind the work and the political position of the creator. Schrijver asserts that it is not the act of copying that artists have issue with but often 'the way they do it' (2019, p.170).

Photographer Audrey Wollen (2018), when denouncing Richard Prince’s appropriation of one of her images for his New Portraits series, argues the act of appropriating is fine as long as the person doing it is not in a position of power over the other person. Regarding the restructuring of power and the future of the artworld, Schrijver argues that 'people who might not have had a voice before are heard' (2019, p.171).


Scully, G. (2020) 'Being human-centred' in Curating Photography: Poolside. TU Dublin: BA Photography [Online]. Available at


Jeffries, J.K. and Kember, S., eds. 2019. Whose Book is it Anyway?: A View from elsewhere on publishing, copyright and creativity. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers. Rastenberger, A-K. (2018). ‘What’s been viewed?, in Rastenberger, A.K. and Sikking, I. (eds.) Why Exhibit? Positions on exhibiting photographies. Amsterdam: Fw Books. Schrijver, E. (2019). ‘Some copies are better than others: copying and ethics’ in Copy this book: an artist's guide to copyright. Eindhoven: Onomatopee.


Cariou, P. (2000) Yes Rasta [Online]. And Prince, R. (2008) Canal Zone [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 24th April 2020) Garcia, M. (2006) Barack Obama [Online]. and Fairey, S. (2008) Hope Poster [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 24th April 2020) Magritte, R. (1929) The Treachery of Images (This is not a pipe) / La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) [online]. Available at: (Accessed: 24th April 2020) Meisel, S. (2015) Vogue Italia November 2015 [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 24th April 2020) Rovegno, J. (2020) Tyler Mitchell's I Can Make You Feel Good at ICP [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 24th April 2020)

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