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Miles PhotoStration
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Do you use photos as reference in your work? We all do. We have to. And most of us do it without taking the time to contact the artists who sat and photographed our inspiration. I hope you read this post and reconsider how you regard not only photographs, but your own work and process and how you put value on it.
this is an image/ animation of Miles Davis by Jeff Sedlik
Photo of Miles Davis by the late Irving Penn. Miles was notoriously controlling (and private?) about his image and art. What do you think went into this photo? You don't know. I don't know. But it's a great photo. It captures Miles.
This photo of Miles Davis by was shot by Jeff Sedlik.
Here is a message I received in my inbox from Jeff a few years ago.  It went as follows:
 
Jeff Sedlik here. I created the Miles Davis photograph currently featured on your site, and in your illustrations.

I am contacting you on the heels of my speech at the ICON conference, on the subject artists rights.

In my creative process I spend months or years researching my subjects, often drawing hundreds of sketches in order to arrive at a concept. For me, it is not a process of trial and error, but is a process of creative distillation. When I am successful, I arrive at a concept that captures my subject's essence. Not a comprehensive summary, but a single, strikingly profound perspective on that human being. Not easy to accomplish in a photograph. Often, it comes down to a certain gesture, pose or expression. The conceptual phase is both challenging and often stressful. I sometimes shelve a concept for a year or two, and revisit it with fresh eyes and an open mind. Eventually I arrive at one or more concepts that I believe can be confidently proposed to my subject. With concept in hand, I then work to gain access to my subjects. I often must wait years to gain access, negotiating with managers, publicists, relatives and the subject, in order to gain acceptance and agreement, and then to arrange sufficient time to make my images. My production process often involves days of travel, a large crew, truckloads of equipment and supplies, with a week or more of pre-production, followed by several days of shooting, and weeks of post-production. Before, during and after the shoot, I work closely with my subject, working to further fine tune my concepts until the subject fully understands, accepts and agrees with my plans. Only then do a make my images. My shoots are like a conversation with my subjects. It is that conversation that creative exchange that takes my concept to the next level and allows me to truly represent my subject in an image. Each image is a tremendous personal and creative investment. Hundreds of hours, many thousands of dollars, and untold amounts of creative energy. All resulting in my photograph.

I have no stranglehold on the gesture pictured in your Miles illustration. This gesture is common in life and in photographs and illustration. However, it was my creative process not yours that resulted in your use of that gesture in association with Miles. You now proudly claim credit to your illustrations, as if my photographs and those of my peers- were mere fodder for your process a means to an end. In reality, youve just taken my concept, my work, my investment, my image, and converted it back into a drawing remarkably like the one that I made in the first place, while applying your illustration style to my concept.

I bear you no ill will, and although I own a registered copyright in both my photograph and my poster, I am not going to sue you for copying my work. If you dont respond, I am unlikely to take the time to write you again. However, I suggest that when you base your work on photographs, you should respect your fellow artists, and not only credit them, but request permission in advance -- to copy or build upon their work. My name is on the bottom of the poster featured on your website, and I am easily found on the web -- you could have reached me in seconds. 

Your work is remarkable, and you are an incredibly skilled illustrator, both technically and conceptually.

You deserve respect. So do your fellow artists. 

I wish you the best.

Jeff Sedlik
 
As I read the letter I felt terrible. Then went back and noticed I HAD credited Jeff in the post but hadn't given him a linked credit. Here is Jeff's' work. Take a look. He's one of the masters. In a moment of haste I fired back a hostile e mail and Jeff I went back and forth over artist's rights. I felt like a douche and apologized. It was a learning moment for me. Jeff was also one of the artists who was contacted to testify in the Fairey case. He declined (as I did).
Here is an encapsultion of the imagery I used to draw the Miles image. BTW- its worth mention that this image has never seen the light of day, other than in one of the Society of Illustrators shows. I did it for me. It was an exploratory (the client had asked for a string image, which they did use)
Here's a larger detail drawn from Sedlik and Penn.
Below is another e mail message from Jeff. If you are a practicing artist or illustrator or student I suggest you read Jeff's message carefully. He's the real deal.

 

Here is the balance of my response to your first message.

 

Whether your client accepted and used your work is not the issue here. Whether you traced, free handed, or mind melded my work has no bearing or

relevance.  You most certainly copied it. I did not publish that work under a CC license. Rather, the poster, the photograph, the website and all other

reproductions are marked to ensure that anyone viewing the image understands that permission should be sought and obtained before using an image.  Even if unmarked, images should not be copied.

 

You suggest that I should treat my work like flotsam, delivering it to a client and walking away and never looking back. You are entitled to treat your work as garbage, but not to expect that I do the same. 

 

I create work, and then generate licensing revenue from that work, over time, throughout the life of the copyright. At that point my work will be owned by the public, for use in any manner, without my permission. In the interim, I support myself and my family by licensing my work. There is no other feasible business model -- other than creating concepts, creating photographs based on those concepts, and then licensing the photographs

repeatedly, first in order to recoup the significant cost involved in generating photographic images, and then to generate income.

 

The ONLY point made in my message was to suggest that you treat fellow artists with respect when copying their work -- that you should ask

permission (always), and provide attribution (if requested by the artist). Many artists will share their work, when asked, depending on the circumstances.

 

Some artists are under the mistaken impression that they can steal work, as long as they credit the author, or that by altering a work x%, it is somehow

acceptable. There is an ethical issue at play, and that is - if you are going to use someone else's work

 

Ultimately, there is a 0% chance that you would have created that Miles illustration without my image at hand, and without all of the work that I invested in making that image.  I only suggested that you should have contacted me before copying it. —Jeff

 

Jeff and I had a conversation over the phone, here, briefly. Always better to talk it out on the phone rather than shoot off e mails. Here's the last e mail from Mr Sedlik:

 
Thanks for taking my call.
 
Apologies for the tone at the end of my last message.
 
I am not after money
 
I am not after credit or links or any sort of public recognition.
 
I am not after anything, other than to inspire you to, in the future,  think about your process and to carefully consider what it is that you are building upon, especially when the end result leans heavily on your visual reference.
 
I know that I do.
 
What you decide is of course, up to you.
 
Felix, I wish you the best. —Jeff

 

Whenever I think to reference a photo I think about Jeff (and his family who depends on him to create these images). I wonder if Shep Fairey thinks about all the photographers whose works he plundered in order to send his messages. To be certain, I like Shep's work, some of it. Some of it is heavy handed and naive. I'm not out to pile on Shep or the Times in my last post

 

Anyhoo I hope this posting resonates with you and maybe changes your philosophy on referencing and crediting your fellow artists. I'd also like to thank Jeff for passing on some wisdom (unknowingly, here) as well as creating some of the best Jazz art out there.

 

Peace.



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