Just over 2 years ago a story ran in the New York Times that asked the question: “If the Copy Is an Artwork, Then What’s the Original? (here)” The original they were referring to belonged to Jim Krantz and the story went on to explain that Jim had recently paid a visit to the Guggenheim Museum where he discovered one of his photographs included in a retrospective of artist Richard Prince’s work. Most photographers by now are aware of Prince and his practice of using other peoples photographs to make his art and we’ve debated various aspects of the practice including the pending lawsuit by photographer Patrick Cariou (here). What caught my eye recently was that Krantz, a long time artist (here) as well as a big time commercial photographer is starting to get some recognition from the fickle fashion and art communities for his work. His statement in the New York Times article that, “I just want some recognition, and I want some understanding” may be coming true. He’s now represented by Danziger Projects in New York, he recently shot an advertising campaign based on the cowboy work for designer Adam Kimmel (here) and has a show hanging at the Colette in Paris that opened Monday (here). I gave him a call to discuss:
APE: In the time since that article came out about Richard Price using your photography how have things changed for you?
There’s been an awful lot of recognition of my work. So much of the time I work in a vacuum. The work that I produce for my commercial accounts is unconnected from my name. In fact the ad in itself is a very different interpretation from the work I create.
APE: Hasn’t that always been the case with advertising photography?
With tobacco in particular there’s even more of a disconnect because you can’t enter the work in CA or any photo contests. So, you’re really, really in a vacuum.
APE: Do you feel like what happened with Richard Prince changed peoples opinion about your work or brought it more recognition?
The general consensus from over 200 emails that I’ve gotten since that article ran is very negative and people were actually pissed off as far as what he’s done and how he goes about his business. There’s a fine line between appropriation and plagiarism. A lot of the people who write me are photographers and artists and they feel vulnerable to this because they project themselves into the situation I find myself in.
In general I’m not happy about it and artists are not happy about it. Now, if you go talk to a gallerist about it they will look at it as American iconography and describe him as a collector of images. I kind of understand if you take the whole Ad with the Marlboro words with the copy, the header and the cigarette pack stripped out. As opposed to what he’s doing which is stripping all the copy away so you have the photograph in its purest form. That’s a very different thing because at that point it’s not an Ad, which is a departure from what I’ve done, it’s literally exactly what I’ve done. The context is everything. And in the context with all the copy and everything else my work creates a new entity in itself. When he eliminates all of that, it goes back to the core image, which is mine, so yeah I don’t see this as really being a photograph of an advertisement. It’s really just the purest form of the art out of context. That’s exactly how I shoot it, I’m not thinking about cigarettes, I’m not thinking about anything more than fantastic art.
APE: Don’t you think that you have to be Richard Prince to pull it off. He’s dedicated his life to this practice. A lot of people react by saying anyone can do this, but it’s all wrapped up in him.
Yeah, I think you’re right but I think a lot of people take a lot of things all the time because everything is so accessible. I’ll bet there’s a lot of crazy things that take place that we don’t know about. I can’t imagine it, but it’s so accessible you know, why not. People do bad things all the time.
APE: How has it evolved for you from seeing it in the Guggenheim to now where you’re represented by James Danziger in NYC, you shot an advertising campaign for Adam Kimmel based on the cowboy work and you have an opening at the Colette in Paris this week?
What its done is its really illuminated my work and given me the opportunity to take it outside of the advertising world and into the fashion and art world right now. In the last month I’ve been in the New York Times twice, Wallpaper magazine coming up, Bon magazine in Europe, a feature in CA, Arena Hommes Plus, Hercules Magazine in Europe, French Vogue and German GQ.
So the recognition you were seeking for the work happened?
The recognition has been fantastic and the source for all of this is the article in the New York Times and it’s funny because I’ve been doing this since I was 19 when I took a photography workshop from Ansel Adams at his house and all these guys were hanging out there like Brett Weston and Jerry Uselman. I’ve been shooting fine art my entire career.
APE: But, that’s the irony isn’t it. Someone steals a photograph and suddenly your work is important to the art community. That’s what it took.
It’s amazing to me that the curators at the Guggenheim would bring this work in without acknowledging the source or giving the viewers the opportunity to see what motivates and inspires a person. You need a footnote in a paper but there’s no source recognized here.
APE: I think that is something that’s changing with the web. There’s suddenly more transparency whether you want it or not. People want to dig down and figure out what inspired something or reveal things that aren’t attributed properly.
This is a very fascinating phenomenon and where did anything originate is a big question.
APE: So, what are you feelings towards Richard Prince now that there’s been some form of attribution?
The recognition has been great because it’s fairly impossible with all the millions and millions of images out there to get recognized for anything now days.
But I still to this day don’t understand what he did. Put yourself in my shoes walking down the street and you see the photograph that I shot in Albany, TX in 1990 of a cowboy with his arms stretched out on those on banners wondering why are my pictures there. It’s bizarre man. So, do I understand it? No. And when I went in and saw the posters for the Richard Prince show with my photograph, I don’t understand that either.
APE: Yeah, I can’t imagine that. I won’t pretend to.
It’s not original and it’s not art. I still don’t understand it and I don’t see the significance of it no matter what.
It’s ballsy as hell, I’ll give him that.