Extremely irritating

It’s not really surprising, but it is very annoying and it most certainly isn’t flattering. One of my photographs of my original work has been used by a website promoting mass produced scarves.

Last week I was doing my monthly online research and tidy up, and checking my Google Analytics, when I saw this search results page and noticed one of my scarves. Naturally, I had been expecting to see my work on an image search for ‘hand painted silk scarf’, but not my photograph associated with another website, and, to add insult to injury, wrongly describing the scarf as hand dyed and not hand painted.

My photo of my work promoting another site.

Over the years I have been contacted by various people and asked if they could use a photo. I’ve always said that’s fine and mentioned in passing it would be nice if they included a credit for me. However, these people have not only purloined my photo, they are also using my painted scarf to advertise their website, all entirely without my permission and with no acknowledgement or link to my online shop. I did a quick recce of their site and it is a puzzle, oddly changing and without any details of who or where in the world it is based. Something doesn’t feel quite right about it and I won’t be clicking on any of their links again even if they do pinch another photo.

And this is my scarf as it appears on my online shop.

I have worked hard to promote my business. During the past five years, as well as designing and painting the silk, I have spent hours photographing, photoshopping and managing the presentation of my online shop. I have paid for and attended a photography course to improve my product photography and photoshoot skills. I am both angry and disappointed that my work (the silk painting and the photography) has been used in this way and my luxury scarves have been linked to a dubious, mystery website. I suppose this kind of episode is to be expected in the ‘Wild West’ world of the Internet even for a minnow venture like mine and it’s simply a case of shrugging your shoulders, forgetting about it and getting on with business as usual.

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Historical fiction, King Henry VIII and St James’s Palace

A-Tudor-PalaceLast night the final episode of Wolf Hall left us in no doubt how terrifying it must have been to live at the court of King Henry VIII. The whole series, like the books (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies), has been an intriguing observation of power and the manipulation of power. But, unlike other 21st-century historical fictional accounts of the Tudors full of 21st-century people dressed in costumes essentially behaving in a very modern manner, the characters of Wolf Hall evoke another time. Perhaps it is nearer to a true Tudor sensibility. It somehow has a feel as though this re-presentation (hyphen deliberate) floats out from the documents, art and culture surviving from the period.

Last weekend I visited the ‘Real Tudors’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London and had the opportunity to scan across six different portraits of Henry VIII as I slowly turned on my heels. Putting the different styles and skills of the various artists aside, we are looking to find the essence of the monarch caught somewhere in the brushstrokes. As I stood and looked and looked, I realised how hard it is to see Henry the human being. The difficulty with these portraits is they are of a royal personage painted at a time when to be royal was to be almost a god. The other issue with these images is that some are copies of an original portrait or even copies of copies long lost in the last 500 years. In the end I considered we will only ever have an extremely mediated view of Henry and as with our contemporary queen, their public face is all about this strange, archaic notion of royalty and nothing to do with an ordinary human sitting for a portrait. I would show you these Henry portraits but, . . .

All the copyright rules and regulations to reproduce an image nearly 500 years old!! And, guess what, one of their aims is to 'extend and broaden the range of audiences for the National Portrait Gallery'. See http://www.npg.org.uk/assets/files/pdf/corporate/busplan20132016.pdf
All the copyright rules and regulations to reproduce an image nearly 500 years old!! And, guess what, one of their aims is to ‘extend and broaden the range of audiences for the National Portrait Gallery’. See http://www.npg.org.uk/assets/files/pdf/corporate/busplan20132016.pdf

Wearing my Art Historian’s hat I find I have again to moan about access to public images held by a national art gallery. The National Portrait Gallery does not permit any photographs at all. In fact there are little signs here and there through the galleries reminding us not to take pictures. These images are part of a nation’s heritage and, of course, they are available to see and buy on their website, but that is not the same as taking my own shots.

St James's Palace Pall Mall
St James’s Palace, Pall Mall, London.
Built as St James’s House by King Henry VIII. The original Chapel Royal, gatehouse tower, turrets and two Tudor rooms in the State apartments of this red brick building still survive.

At least we are still permitted (and we are very, very grateful) to photograph royal palaces from the street. During the period between 1531 and 1536 Henry VIII had St James’s House built (now known as St James’s Palace). The Wolf Hall drama is also partially set during these years and today we can stand in front of the original Tudor gatehouse and imagine Thomas Cromwell riding through these gates perhaps to speak with Anne Boleyn the day after she was crowned queen.

The Tudor gatehouse of St James's Palace.
The Tudor gatehouse of St James’s Palace.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery and Botticelli’s ‘Madonna of the Book’

Recently I’ve been pondering the nature of ‘copyright’. On one side of the debate we have the most aggressive legal (though somewhat amoral) approach as practised by patent trolls suing whomever they can in Marshall, Texas (see article) and on the other side, the seemingly limitless lifting and reusing of images, text and music without reference, citations, credits or fees, like a rash all over the Internet.

madonna book botticelli
The Madonna of the Book – Botticelli. Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan.
The original.
In the middle of these two extremes are ordinary people living in our everyday world trying to share interesting experiences, sometimes for gain, but often just for the joy of passing on the delightful, the fascinating and the newsworthy. Copying is a human past-time and indeed, copying was part of the training when an apprentice studied painting with a great master. The tradition of copying whether for learning or commercial reward is demonstrated by these various copies of ‘The Madonna of the Book’ by Botticelli.

I absolutely appreciate the need for creative/ideas people to make a living from their endeavours if that is their chosen path. And, when you consider all the different types of creative professionals, I think photographers are having the hardest time with the unattributed reproduction of their work on the Internet. It takes skill and time to take professional photographs and often more time and work in post-production. The music industry has finally found a suitable business model in the brave new world of the web by making money from live performance and merchandise, but what about the authors and the visual artists.

Victorian copy of Madonna of the Book.
My 19th-century copy of the “Madonna of the Book’ by Botticelli. Another copy.

Victorian copy of Botticelli work
Detail of my Madonna of the Book – a Victorian copy. The face is a really good version, but the hands, hair, flowers and textiles are not well copied.

It is all a very tricky area. People should get recognition for their work and their ideas, but then for how long? You would think that when the maker/creator dies that would be it – but not so. I am not at all legal so sorry if this is technically adrift, but in the UK the duration of rights for literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works is 70 years from the maker’s death. Of course, there is also the notion of ‘fair use’ – not as straightforward as it sounds, and then ultimately all the copyright laws vary from country to country.

So, here’s a little conundrum, my deceased mother painted this oil painting (The Whisper) of Cardinal Ratzinger talking confidentially to another cardinal. She created it from a photograph in a newspaper and I have now photographed the oil painting – it’s making my head spin!

And, finally, my BIG ‘copyright’ gripe, why aren’t we allowed to photograph ‘owned by the nation’ works of art (out of copyright) if they are in a curated, pay for entry, ‘event’ exhibition in a museum/art gallery? It’s all as clear as mud . . . (is that a quotation from somebody, should I reference it??)