Don't miss the latest stories
Photographer Discovers His Image ‘Remixed’ By Artist Hanging In Art Gallery
By Yoon Sann Wong, 18 Sep 2018
Image via Shutterstock
When South African photographer Graeme Williams attended the opening of the Johannesburg Art Fair earlier this month, little did he expect to see one of his very own photos on exhibit with credit to American artist Hank Willis Thomas.
The original 1990 image, shown in color below, was captured by Williams in Thokoza during a Nelson Mandela rally and had been “remixed” by Thomas through whitening, also pictured below. What’s more, Thomas’ edition was selling for US$36,000—25 times the amount Williams had ever received for the original photo, which he says has never been sold for more than US$1,200.
Last night at the opening of the Johannesburg Art Fair, I was disturbed to find a displayed image of mine credited to...Posted by Graeme Williams Photographer on Friday, September 7, 2018
In this Facebook post, Williams calls out Thomas with a side-by-side image and a caption that reads, “Last night at the opening of the Johannesburg Art Fair, I was disturbed to find a displayed image of mine credited to another photographer.”
“By slightly whitening part of the image (possibly some comment on whiteness vs blackness) African American artist, Hank Willis Thomas, has attempted to make this image his own.”
“My unaltered image has been published and exhibited many times. In 2008, as Barack Obama sought the Presidency and raced for the position against John McCain, Newsweek magazine ran a story asking each candidate to discuss what best personified their world view. This image that I took in Thokoza (1990) during a Nelson Mandela rally was used to illustrate Obama’s world view.”
“Thomas is quoted as saying: ‘I do think appropriation is akin to stealing, even though I think the ownership of advertising images is questionable. But for me it would feel more like stealing if I thought ‘I really wish I’d taken that image myself so I’m just going to use it.’’”
“Well Hank, I am glad that we agree on that point.”
In an interview with The Guardian, Williams explained that the alterations were “absolutely minimal,” adding that it’s considered “theft, plagiarism, appropriation.”
“Within the art world there’s an acceptance that you can use images within the artistic framework to create something that has meaning different to the original image. This was the exact same of my original photograph and all he had done is take an image that he likes and call it his own,” said Williams.
On artnet News, Thomas revealed that he could “see why [Williams] would be frustrated.” According to the artist, Williams felt as though Thomas had not altered the photo enough, though he added that this question of ‘enough’ posed a “critical question.”
Through Facebook, Williams shared, “Hank Willis Thomas (the artist) called me yesterday evening and suggested a solution to ‘this problem’ and a way to stop all the complaining.”
“He offered me his ‘artwork’ and proposed that I keep it in my home for year and we would then reconnect to discuss ‘the problem’ further. Presumably it will take a year for me to fully understand the depth of his creative input and the complexity of the changes that he has made to my image. I declined the offer.”
Williams called the proposition “utterly bizarre” in his interview with The Guardian. “I take this artwork and keep it for a year and then we’ll chat after that? Fuck knows what that means. Perhaps that after a year I’ll understand the complexity of his artwork. I said no thanks. I have my own version of the photograph and I really don’t need an American to give that image some kind of significance and meaning.”
According to Williams, Thomas feels that his artwork is “sufficiently” different from the original photo and apparently left it up to Williams to decide what he wanted Thomas to do with the artwork. Williams told PetaPixel, “I don’t want anything to do with his art piece.”
The gallery removed Thomas’ work one day after Williams’ complaint.
[via PetaPixel, artnet News and The Guardian, main image via Shutterstock]
More related news
Also check out these recent news