Monkeys have rights too


I came across this bizarre story today ( about Gloustershire photographer, David Slater, who wanted Wikimedia to remove his images of a monkey. Although David Slater had edited and cropped the photographs, he wasn't the photographer. It is claimed that the photographs were actually taken by the monkey! This means that the images were the monkey's selfies! 

The fact that the monkey took the photographs means that they are attributed to him, making him the copyright owner! Therefore only the monkey can instruct Wikimedia to remove the photographs. This scenario could set a precident for future copyright claims. If the copyright owner is classed as the one who releases the shutter to create the image, then who owns the copyright for photographs that have been exposed using an intervalometer? 

It could be argued that if David Slater had some conceptual rights to the image (I'm presuming that it wasn't the monkey's idea to jump on the selfie bandwagon).   

Stranger happenings

I have always been intrigued by how text can be combined with an image to construct a meaningful photograph, but never really knew where to look for inspiration. Cotton (2011) offered me some inspiration in her first chapter by introducing me to the work of Gillian Wearing's 'Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say'. 

Gillian Wearing approached strangers on the streets of London and asked them to write something about themselves on a white piece of card. 

Gillian Wearing approached strangers on the streets of London and asked them to write something about themselves on a white piece of card. 

Wearing's resulting photographs 'revealed the emotional stress and personal issues that were occupying their minds' (Cotton, C. 2011, p. 30) that passers by would otherwise fail to notice. 

Usually it is the portrait photographer who is in control of the subject, being able to manipulate their muse within their studio. Wearing has relinquished this control, allowing the subject self-determination of the photograph's message. Her method transcends that of traditional portrait photographers, capturing the profundity and experience of everyday life. However, Gillian Wearing is still in control of the strangers she invites to be photographed and which images will be included in the final collection.  

Shizuka Yokomizo adopts a similar method of transference of control to the subject, who is unknown to her. Yokomizo's 'Stranger' (1999) involved her sending letters to potential subjects who would be easily photographed at a ground floor window, at a particular time in the evening.  Each willing participant kept their curtains open and lights on, posed in anticipation to be photographed by a stranger. Yokomizo produced 19 photographs in which the subject dictated the pose and clothing worn. Cotton (2011) likened the windows to mirrors, as if the strangers are looking at themselves, in anticipation of being photographed. The 'mirror' marks the physical space that separates the seer from the seen.

Angier (2007, p.72) sums up this encounter as: 

"a zero-degree confrontation in which the pre-condition for intimacy is present, but intimacy itself is left deliberately unfulfilled." 

A stranger stands at her front window, waiting to be photographed by a stranger. 

A stranger stands at her front window, waiting to be photographed by a stranger. 

Unlike most voyeuristic portraiture, Yokomizo's subject are aware that they will be photographed by a stranger, having been informed anonymously by letter, saying:

Dear Stranger, 

I am an artist working on a photographic project which involves people I do not know...I would like to take a photograph of you standing in your front room from the street in the evening.  

Angier (2007) points out that The salutation on Yokomizo's letter is a paradox, suggesting both intimacy (Dear) and distance (stranger). 

Some portrait photographers could be considered to have an air of arrogance in knowing how the sitter should pose in order to produce the right type of image. Both Wearing and Yokomizo allow us more information about their subjects by allowing them greater influence in creating the scene.  


Angier, R. (2007). Train your gaze: a practical and theoretical introduction to portrait photography. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA

Cotton, C. (2011). The photograph as contemporary art. New edition. London: Thames and Hudson.  



A head for bread

Charlotte Cotton's first chapter also illustrates the role of photography in creating alternate realities as art. An advantage of photography is it's easy of use to capture three dimensional scenes. 

'Bread Man' is the performance character of Tatsumi Orimoto. The Japanese artist hides his face under loaves of bread and then undertakes everyday activities.  


Tatsumi Orimoto, Bread Man Son and Alzheimer Mama, Tokyo, 1996. 

Tatsumi Orimoto, Bread Man Son and Alzheimer Mama, Tokyo, 1996. 

It is not just the bizarre nature of his persona that is of interest, but also his interaction with passers by who permit him to be photographed with them. This would appear to be a very pointless art form, however further empathy for Orimoto is given when you understand that he cares for his sick mother, and that 'Orimoto has...used his bread guise for double portraits of himself and his mother, who has Alzheimer's disease, a visual merging of her changed mental reality with his performance of physical difference' (Cotton, C. 2011, p. 27). 

Oil Can, bt Tatsumi Orimoto. In a small white room, expressionless Asian people stand in green 44 gallon oil drums.

Oil Can, bt Tatsumi Orimoto. In a small white room, expressionless Asian people stand in green 44 gallon oil drums.

At 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, volunteers assisted Orimoto by standing expressionless in an oil drum for 30 seconds. The meaning of the artwork was unclear. For some it represented alienation or the influence of he oil industry. For others the act of gathering strangers together to perform in this way was the reason. 

What is the photograph? Is it the documenting of a live art tableau, or is the photograph the purpose of this activity? The fact that Orimoto's work asks more questions than it offers answers, is responsible for his popularity. 


Cotton, C. (2011). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames and Hudson.  

Weapon of Choice

'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me' is an old playground response to insults, and yet verbal abuse can leave invisible scars on their victim. Photographer Rich Johnson collaborated with make-up artists and victims of both verbal and physical abuse, to create portraits that reveal words that harm in the same way as bruising would. The images imply that verbal abuse is inextricably linked to physical abuse. Johnson explained how the project was carefully orchestrated:

We presented each participant...with a list of hurtful words, and we asked them to choose a word that had significance to them...
At first, they were just words on a list. But as each participant chose a word - the word that would be painted on their body and captured in a photograph - the words took on much more significance. 

This method has resulted in some quite graphic, powerful imagery. Portraits usually intend to capture their subjects in the best possible light, whereby the photographer is able to skilfully pose the sitter. The fact that the victim is in control of the word used, and that it is painted on them, unusually presents the subject with a greater control in the creation of the image than the photographer. 

© Rich Johnson (Image permission granted)


The words appear bruise-like on the subject, creating powerful images that enable the viewer to connect with the image, especially if they have experienced something similar.

Rich Johnson's Weapon of Choice can be found here.


Burgett, G. (2014) Powerful Photos Illustrate the Real Damage Done by Verbal Abuse [online] Available from: [Accessed 24/5/14]

The first ever selfie.

The first ever selfie, by Robert Cornelius.

Selfies are all the rage at the moment but have you ever wondered who took the first selfie? That accolade goes to Robert Cornelius. On a sunny day in October 1839, Cornelius sat for more than a minute in front of his camera in the back of his father's gas lamp-importing business in Philadelphia. The resulting exposure was the first photographic self-portrait.

Unable to post his selfie to Facebook, Robert Cornelius wrote on the back of his photograph:

The first light picture ever taken. 1839.

The first selfie!