Thursday, September 3, 2009

Using Old Photos In Art Respectfully

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I picked up several magazines today at the bookstore. One of them had quite a few altered art and mixed media pieces.

I love to look at that stuff even if I don't quite get it all the time. It's pretty common for people to use old photos in these genres. I certainly don't want to pan another artist's work, because art is in the eye of the beholder. I also want to make it clear that I love Halloween. That being said, something really struck me.

There was a Halloween piece that caught my attention. In this piece quite a few very old photos had been used. There really aren't any copy write laws concerning old photos of ordinary people. They were just pictures of mostly elderly people from about a hundred years ago. Of course back then it was common for people to not smile in photos so some of them looked a bit stern. Across one photo was stamped the word "witch." Below it read "they turn out at night some uncouth being." The woman in the photo really had nothing about her that said witch to me. She had kind but somewhat sad eyes, and her face reflected a life filled with hard work.

It struck me how utterly disrespectful this was to her memory. On rare occasion I will use an old photo with a bear or even in my blog header, but I am very careful about how I use such things. I think it's really important to remember that these aren't just clip art pictures. Behind those photos were real people. These were someones children, parents, spouses, grandparents and siblings. They had lives filled with joy and sadness, they worked hard, and if they made it to an elderly age that was an achievement in those days. I am sure most of them were good Christians because most people of the time were, who would have been offended to be called witch because it wasn't such a cavalier concept as it is now. One of my Grandmothers was Menonite, and if someone put the word witch on her picture she would be turning over in her grave because that would have been deeply offensive to her. Plus it really made me sad to see them called uncouth beings.

In a way I will be happy when this trend in art passes. I have seen too many antique and vintage things destroyed, and too many photos used in ways that I personally feel are disrespectful to the dead.

When we create art, it's an expression of ourselves, but when we incorporate the memory of someone else we're going beyond just ourselves...stop and think, is that how you would want to be used in a hundred years? What if someone put something on your grandmother's pic, your mother's pic or your pic that they or you would have found incredibly offensive at the time? I would really hate to see any ancestral pictures of my family used in this way, because they were lovely people who were definitely not uncouth. Just my two cents worth.

4 comments:

Kathy-Catnip Studio said...

Well said.

T.Allen-Mercado said...

Hmmm...I understand your concerns, I don't know if I agree fully, but art being what it is we're each going to have our own perceptions. Whenever a genre or piece moves me in an unsettling way-I fall back on the belief that art is supposed to make us think-what we think, is all our own.

I collect vintage photos and use them sometimes in mixed media pieces. While satirical and macabre pieces are not my style, I would like to think the same amount of love and respect go into the finished piece as the artist who does. I just can't bring myself to equate a difference of artistic style with disrespect.

Kelly said...

I am not saying that using any old photos is wrong, I am just saying that how they are used in some instances is disrespectful, like the piece I saw. I have seen some also that had an insulting word towards women across the front in the past.

I have also seen many pieces that were just lovely and I am sure if the person in the picture was still alive they would be happy to be part of the piece.

I just believe it's important to respect the dead.

julietk said...

Some people would say that art should make you feel things even bad feelings.
We each have a different reactions to what we see. I couldn't enjoy the comedy in the Eddy Murphy film "Life" because all I could think of was the total injustice that was done to those men.
Was I daft? I think not and nor are you :-)

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