Lawsuit filed against Richard Prince

Images of Rastafarians under dispute by photographer Patrick Cariou

NEW YORK. French photographer Patrick Cariou has launched a lawsuit against Richard Prince, claiming that the artist improperly lifted images from Cariou’s photographic survey of Rastafarian culture for a recent series of paintings. The suit, filed in New York, also names as defendants Larry Gagosian, Prince’s dealer who displayed the series in a recent show titled “Canal Zone”, and publishing house Rizzoli, which co-produced the catalogue. In addition to seeking unspecified damages for copyright infringement, the lawsuit also demands the “impounding, destruction, or other disposition” of all of the paintings, unsold catalogues and preparatory materials involved in the making of the works.

Cariou filed the suit after being alerted that the show contained images of dreadlocked men and woman seemingly copied from Yes Rasta, a book Cariou published in 2000 after a decade of photographing Rastafarian culture in the hinterlands of Jamaica. According to the lawsuit, 20 out of the 22 works in the series—a pastiche-like amalgam of Rastafarian images, porn photos and painterly strokes recalling artists such as de Kooning and Picasso—featured photographs from Cariou’s book. The photographer’s lawyer and representatives for Prince and Mr Gagosian all declined to comment on the suit.

Prince, whose work typically incorporates images from a variety of sources, has previously incurred some resentment for his practice. In the 1980s photographer Garry Gross sued Prince over Spiritual America, a 1983 work that consisted of a blown-up copy of a picture Gross took of a nude, pre-pubescent Brooke Shields. Reportedly the suit was settled out of court. A series of enlarged Marlborough advertisements that brought Prince international celebrity in the 1990s—selling for millions of dollars, a price his work now routinely commands—also created consternation among the lesser-known commercial photographers who shot the cowboy-themed pictures. Prince himself, who has said of his work that he’s “practising without a license”, unapologetically problematises issues of authorship. The essay for the show’s catalogue, for instance, was written by James Frey, the controversial author who fabricated whole swathes of his 2003 “memoir”, A Million Little Pieces.

In the lawsuit, Cariou’s lawyers argue that the appropriations in “Canal Zone” are especially egregious because they involve the recent work of a fellow artist whose images are the result of years of ethnographic research, not simply the output of a commercial photographer. However, the question facing the judge if the case goes to court will largely boil down to whether Prince’s use of the images was transformative and therefore permissible under the United States’ doctrine of “fair use”, which allows for limited reproduction of copyright imagery for the purpose of parody or other creative ends. A significant recent case regarding the practice of appropriation in art was Blanch v Koons, a 2006 action where fashion photographer Andrea Blanch sued Jeff Koons for incorporating a photo she took of a woman’s lower legs for Allure magazine. The suit was decided in Koons’s favour when a judge found the artist’s appropriation to be transformative.

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3 Jan 10
15:1 CET


Art is just taking what is noticed in the world and making commentary in and from the artist's perspective, whether racial, stereotypical or just rude, it may inspire, dispel, create, eradicate, humour-ize, dehumanize, and more. This is just one perspective, which is really not very clear, which is what so much of art is. I say, leave it alone, and deal with your own projections. Art always plays off of life, who's to say if it is a good projection or a bad one? Only the observer, and in who's opinion is their particular right? The one with more votes tends to gain the majority, which lends to the direction of "rightness". This is not art, it is the definition of mediocrity.

20 Sep 09
14:14 CET


What i this image supposed to represent? What i can see is that the 'artist' is tryingto say that I&I Rastafari have no face. Why come up with an image as degrading as this? I man find this artist guilty of racism and now that he should never be allow in art exhibitions again. As for the exhibitionists I have one question. Why show this piece of racist 'art'?

20 Sep 09
14:14 CET


Ignorance is not art. Distortions of truth are lies. A "real" artist would not use this infantile mockery and consider it a medium. Unfortunately bad press is better than no press for those who are desperate. Controversy creates attention for those who have nothing better to create and stupidity is still a source of inspiartion for many in the art world,shame.

20 Sep 09
14:14 CET


I find this exhibition both degrading to Rastafari people, black people and women. I am amazed that an art gallery would even consider showing such images in the 21st Century! Rastafari people have been fighting a long battle for respect and recognition of our faith which is still misunderstood by the majority of the world. Exhibitions like this reinforce negative stereotypes. This particular exhibition not only breaches copyright by stealing photographs taken by Patrick Cariou but also disrespects the elders of our faith who have suffered discrimination, abuse, false imprisonment, beatings and even death because of their way of life. It also juxtaposes images of Rastafari people with pornographic images and images degrading women. This is totally unacceptable and I join with others worldwide in condemning this exhibition. More protest can be found on the Rasta Ites website.

20 Sep 09
14:14 CET


As an ethnographer who has worked for nearly 30 years with Rastafari in Jamaica and across the Afro-Atlantic world, I find Mr. Prince's use of these images, the legal issues aside, exploitative and racist. While Cariou's photography itself might be critiqued as overly exotifying in some instances, it is by any standard an attempt to dignify a traditionally marginalized people who have for many yeasrs been maligned, misrepresented and exploited by the dominant society. I suspect that Prince knows little or anything of Rastafari. Cariou's images of the Rastafari have simply afforded him an opportunistic canvass of black bodies which he has distorted and defaced for whatever possible freakish shock value they may elicit. He has inverted whatever Cariou set out to accomplish, dismissing other people's sensibility of themselves as irrelevant to his "art." He could just as readily used the dead bodies of holocaust victims in his phornographic presentation. There's a longer essay here if the Art News is interested. jph

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