PetaPixel

Photogs Find Paintings That Look Just Like Their Photos Hanging in a Gallery

Getting your work copied, ripped off and/or stolen is a sad reality in the digital age. In fact, earlier this year we shared a website dedicated to ousting copycats and were shocked at how much copyright infringement was really out there. But where finding your work on another “photographer’s” website would be startling enough, how would you feel if you found it while browsing a major art show?

That’s exactly what happened to artist Jason Levesque this last weekend. While walking around Art Basel in Miami Beach, Levesque noticed that three of the pieces presented by the Robert Fontaine Gallery looked a bit more than familiar.

That’s because two of them were based on his photography, and one on his good friend Marie Killen‘s work. After returning home, Levesque did an online search and discovered additional paintings “inspired” by his and Killen’s photographs.

In the photos above, the images on the left show paintings by the artist, which are obviously based on the Levesque on the right. Here are a few comparisons with Killen’s work (again, the infringing artwork is on the left, and the original photos are on the right):

Understandably upset, Levesque took to Facebook to share his findings, exposing Josafat Miranda (the artist behind the three paintings on display). He writes,

What Josafat Miranda has done here reveals a total disrespect for photography as an art form. He’s quickly and with very little creative altercation, harvesting the yield of someone else’s hard work. What makes a painting strong, isn’t just the brush strokes and the rendering method, more, much more, than that is the composition, the subject matter and the hundreds of creative decisions that go into making an original piece of art.

Miranda’s Facebook page has since been taken offline.

While this case won’t get nearly as much publicity, this type of derivative work is reminiscent of the HOPE poster controversy — how much do you have to change before a piece of art becomes original?


Update: Here’s what Miranda tells the Miami New Times:

I didn’t steal these images. My only mistake was not giving the original artists credit. I’ve now spoken to them and apologized to them. We came to the agreement that I have to take everything down and destroy it, which is exactly what I’m going to do [...] Now everything is all f**ked up. I don’t have a gallery. I don’t have a job. I don’t have any way to make money … Now nobody wants to buy my work, even though most of it isn’t a copy of anything. I’m not a millionaire! I live in a tiny little room and people think that I’m some famous millionaire. It’s not the case.

People are cursing me online, wishing I were dead. In my series there is no specification because it’s not a projection of ‘my work.’ There are millions of piece of art in the world by millions of artists. Yes, I made a mistake by not giving the original artists credit, but come those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. It’s art.


Thanks for sending in the tip, Sam!


Image credits: Photographs by Josafat Miranda, Jason Levesque, and Marie Killen


 
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  • Jurgen G

    Okay, but I find his Facebook-rant simply too much, don’t put yourself on such a pedestal I’d argue. If you really find your photographs such work of art with such a thought-through composition and hundreds of creative decisions as he speaks of, I would feel flattered to start with, that someone is using them in another creative work. Of course he should have asked, and he has all reason to be mad, but again, lose the pedestal.

  • DavidC
  • http://www.facebook.com/sarahbugejak Sarah Bugeja Kissaun

    Although I would also be rather angry that someone has taken my photos and is gaining recognition for the ideas I would have put together, I think deep down I would also feel a bit flattered that someone was so inspired by my work… would have been nice if this artist however consulted the photographer before using them as references (painted copies really), ESPECIALLY if it wasn’t going to be kept to him or herself…

    The photos are MUCH better than the paintings however…

  • Dave

    The solution to this theft is to send the ‘artist’ an invoice. The photographer can name the price.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=689698983 Ena Jenkins

    I think the Facebook response was completely justified. It doesn’t read as a rant. It’s the truth. If someone wrote a book and another author changed the title and simply altered some phrasing here and there, or in the case of this artist – simply changed the medium (let’s say, from a book to a performed stageplay)…it’s still plagiarism. The guy should have staged and shot his own photographs, then painted them. Hell… use Levesque’s style as inspiration – but use your own work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bennett-Hall/709960718 Bennett Hall

    this has deeply rooted precedent in the Morton Beebe v. Rauschenberg case in the 70′s -this was a very important case about derivative work / infringement – and actually, this case involved far less egregious than what Miranda has done here.

    “Rauschenberg settled the suit by giving a copy of the print to Beebe, and subsequently
    began taking his own photographs to use in his works.”
    http://mortonbeebe.com/images/copyright.html

  • Erin

    Something about the Miami show that makes it a magnet for folks who lack integrity? Same festival showing the stolen Banksy pieces, no?

  • James

    They look almost like photoshop paintings to me. If it was a tribute, don’t tribute bands pay some kind of royalties to the band they tribute to sing their songs?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ErrantArtist Chris Rand

    Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.
    Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery — celebrate it if you feel like it.
    In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.”
    -stolen quote

  • Samcornwell

    I just showed this post to my Dad and he had a funny response:

    “It’s plagiarism, plain and simple. It’s a bit like taking someone’s book and rewriting it in a different font and then selling it as your own. I should think the photographer is very unhappy.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/roger.thornhill.5 Roger Thornhill

    “I didn’t steal these images. My only mistake was not giving the original
    artists credit. I’ve now spoken to them and apologized to them. We came
    to the agreement that I have to take everything down and destroy it,
    which is exactly what I’m going to do”

    LOL. They didn’t steal the artwork, but the photographer wants them to take everything down and destroy it. If the only mistake was not giving the credit to the photographer, that can be easily fixed on a display card. If the art is being destroyed, its more than a credit issue.

  • http://twitter.com/ArtofPics Art of Photography

    Damn it! Once again ignorant people take foolish actions. If either party had taken the time to consult an attorney they would have found the photographs are eligible for ‘fair use’ by being posted online (you post, you lose). Additionally, while the artist may have been ‘inspired’ by the photographs, these works are very much original efforts (personal opinion, very good works too). Jason Levesque acted like a typical cyber bully in this matter (impatiently ranting rather than taking the time to contact the artist). It is a shame actually. The painter has incorporated the principles and elements of style through personal effort. The photographer depressed a button and now wants copyright protection for every girl in bunny ears picture.
    I wonder what Playboy has in its vaults?

  • 773metric

    “Now everything is all f**ked up. I don’t have a gallery. I don’t have a
    job. I don’t have any way to make money … Now nobody wants to buy my
    work”

    That’s not the photographer’s problem.

    But having said that, there’s something distasteful about complaints made in public via social media. Maybe I’m biased because I don’t use Facebook, Twitter etc, but wouldn’t this have been better handled by contacting the artist and/or gallery directly in the first instance, rather than stirring up mass mob frenzy online? Why don’t people speak to each other any more? It seems we’re all too busy broadcasting to actually communicate.

  • Guest

    We stand on the heads of giants that came before us. Everything we create has been pilfered from the past, to think otherwise is a fool’s game. Where should the line be drawn? If the line drawing is motivated by finances then it is an arbitrary line. My images are constantly stolen without credit to me, yet those images will influence so many others. If my name were attached, in the vastness of time I will be forgotten but my influence will not. Keep your work locked away, nobody wants to be influenced by your commercialized attitude anyway.

  • http://ddon.myopenid.com/ John

    Miranda, if you read this, you only have yourself to blame, you reap what you sow!

  • dlp photo

    my web site has the simple copyright rule: don’t steal, just ask. maybe if he had just asked nicely in the beginning, they just might have let him make some paintings and everyone would be happy. i don’t know why no one can bother to just ask nicely first. “hey! that’s a nice photo! do you mind if i make a nice painting based on it and send you a print?” what’s that take? 5 seconds?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ErrantArtist Chris Rand

    We stand on the heads of giants that came before us. Everything we create has been pilfered from the past, to think otherwise is a fool’s game. Where should the line be drawn? If the line drawing is motivated by finances then it is an arbitrary line. My images are constantly stolen without credit to me, yet those images will influence so many others. If my name were attached, in the vastness of time I would be forgotten but my influence will not. Keep your work locked away, nobody wants to be influenced by your commercialized attitude anyway.

  • nicholassmith

    As a photographer if someone said to me “Hey dude, do you mind if I use one of your images as a basis for a painting?”, I’d be overwhelmed. I’d say most of us would be, to know someone has loved your work enough it’s inspired them? Aw hell yeah.

    Not asking, then getting all whiny about the fact you now need to destroy the rip off work you did? Not cool. Makes you look like a child, and rightly will truncate your career in the art world pretty quick.

  • http://twitter.com/Sukiho Sukiho

    prefer the paintings myself

  • René

    Variations of this are so called “appropriation art”. Happened to many other photographers, that they discovered that their pictures had been photographed, not altered and sold for a fortune by the people who copied them.

  • Mr Gubrz

    or contact the photographers you like, ask to collaborate and sell things together, a photo and the painting together and split the profits

  • http://profiles.google.com/ksuwildkat Rob S

    UGH!! This just makes me sick. I have come to the conclusion that much of the “Art” world is so morally bankrupt that they make Wall Street look good.

    Those aren’t paintings, they are photoshop jobs. Look at the strings and the hair in the last three – identical!

    I had someone use one of my pictures for an album cover. The use CLEARLY fell under Fair Use because they had “transformed” it so much even I could barely tell my image had been used. Despite that, they contacted me and ASKED for permission which I gladly gave.

    This is flat out theft. The “artist” KNEW exactly what he was doing, did it anyway and then has the nerve to whine about suffering consequences. Unbelievable.

  • B. Ubba

    Actually, you’re wrong on this score. Photography or any art is given automatic copyright at the time of creation. If the images were posted on facebook, the fb policy is that *Facebook* has copyright use of the images, not every Tom, Dick and Harry. And posting something online doesn’t mean you lose copyright. Newspapers print articles and images online, but that doesn’t mean they are “free game”. Also, any artwork that derives from another artwork must have substantial alteration to make them unrecognizable from the original works to be considered free from infringement. I’ve worked in the art world for years and had to learn all the laws…

  • Word to the Wise

    I can only assume the foolish action you’re referring to is the posting such an ignorance-filled response. Maybe you should consult an attorney regarding “fair use.”

  • 7enderbender

    Juergen, you are very wrong about this. Why wouldn’t the photographer think highly of his work? He should! We as photographers are way too humble – and cheap. There is still the general notion that anyone can take or make a photograph and that it’s not skill and certainly not worth anything because it’s not as “difficult”. Well guess what, it doesn’t matter. And if you think it flattering to have your stuff stolen how about if I come and get your car or make out with your wife? Flattering as well? It’s theft. And just because something is digital and therefore easy to steal it doesn’t make it right. I can’t believe we’re having this discussion even. That’s what it has come to in our download-anything-for-free-anything-goes world. And I’m fine with reusing and inspiration to the point of copying. But that needs to be disclosed and potentially paid for. Everything else is cheap (literally and figuratively speaking) and dishonest. Potentially criminal. I hope the photographer sues the guy and gets a good payback so that people learn something from this. This is no different than those idiots with their filesharing sites and stolen music. This kind of stuff is destroying art.

  • videoguy

    The Artist should have gone to a royalty free image site to get his ideas :)

  • http://marketisdale.net/ Mark Tisdale

    I had someone contact me to use one of my photos once in a similar manner. While I give her credit for contacting me, her email included no information about what she would do with it after, no links to her work, nothing. I searched and found her and she was selling prints of her work for far more than the photographers and her works were verbatim identical to the photos she based them on (which took work to find because she rarely linked to them). The ones above are comparably at least slightly changed (although not nearly enough to count). While I love photography, it’s very much rooted in what I can find in the real world to use in my images. If you are genuinely a painter, why on earth would you want to copy someone else?! Shouldn’t your imagination provide you with the inspiration you need?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ErrantArtist Chris Rand

    Simply changed the medium? Simply spent countless hours learning how to paint with a high degree of technical skill? You make it sound as tho anyone could do it and that is just simply not the case. There was massive amounts of time invested leading up to the point at which the paintings were made.

  • heeeiho

    Same happened to my uncle Cekuta. What a shame.

  • derekdj

    Miranda’s response in the Miami Times is incredibly lame! Are suppose to feel sorry for her not having any money or ability to create her own original work? Her lame attempt at emulating Andy Warhol, Rauschenberg or other silk screen artists is sad, she neither added to or modified the image enough to make it her own. At least with Warhol he was making a statement on pop culture, what was Miranda’s statement?

  • Swade

    “I didn’t steal these images. My only mistake was not giving the original artists credit.” I believe there is a word for that, it’s called stealing.

  • eraserhead12

    The worst part? he adamantly believes he did nothing wrong; that’s getting sorry you’re *caught*, not sorry you did it. I wonder how he’d respond if someone plagiarized his ‘art’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ErrantArtist Chris Rand

    The greatest painters in history, who have name recognition well outside of the art world, were taught to “copy the masters as closely as possible” and avoid “unnecessary invention.”

  • Alan Dove

    Damn it! Once again ignorant people take foolish actions. If you had taken the time to consult an attorney, you would have found that publishing something online does not, in any way, strip it of copyright protections. Heck, you don’t even have to hire your own attorney to learn this. Just start copy-pasting the latest New York Times stories from their web site, changing the fonts, and redistributing them as your own work. A whole team of attorneys will contact you shortly thereafter and provide you with a comprehensive education on the topic of fair use.

  • Guest

    Shouldn’t photographers give credit to the countless man hours that went into inventing and creating the camera they use?

  • http://www.facebook.com/pday28 Patrick Day

    Jurgen just because you feel that way others may not.
    Also it was just by chance this guy got caught else he would have went on
    pretending these images where original works. If he would have original asked this may have turned out much different but as the saying goes do not do the crime if you can not do the time

  • http://sundazed.net Matthew S. Sunday

    Is your name Josafat Miranda?

    Depressed a button? Forget the thought, makeup, lighting, time that went into this before he ‘depressed a button.’

    Your post is so off that I can’t tell if you’re trolling… You’ve simply no idea about copyright… Playboy? Don’t they owe the Easter Bunny then?

    It’s one thing to argue that the Iliad and the Odyssey are harvested for all great stories after… It’s another to argue that re-publishing the Odyssey in a different format doesn’t give ‘Homer’ copyright.

  • Kate

    There is a fine line between inspiration, adaptation and duplication. It would be very different if he were taking the photographs and using them for reference – clearly not the case.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bennett-Hall/709960718 Bennett Hall

    The Federal Copyright case Rogers v. Koons, involving a ” String of puppies”, replicated as sculptures by artist Jeff Koons, then sold for $367,000 each via N.Y. Gallery Sonnabend, is also noteworthy; the sculptures were literally a copy of the photograph.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogers_v._Koons

  • http://sundazed.net Matthew S. Sunday

    Well, if he would have taken massive amounts of time to find a model, prepare her, paint her, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we? Instead, he chose to take the cheap route by letting someone else make the creative decisions for him.

    I do a lot of work in Illustrator, but I never use other photographers’ work as a starting point. I ALWAYS find a shot of mine that works with what I need because I KNOW that it’s stealing otherwise.

  • Cadenza

    Photographers PAY for the camera they use! If Miranda had paid for the images he used, there would be no problem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neoracer-Xox/1037144278 Neoracer Xox

    LMAO no one wants to now that you got no original ideas. Another kid from the lib generation

    ” I don’t have a gallery. I don’t have a job. I don’t have any way to make money … Now nobody wants to buy my work”

  • Christopher Michael

    ART..BS…You stole and you are now a civil felon, not convicted my US Courts. Read Copyright of 1976 Mirands. You are not an artist. I am surprise you did not get slapped a lawsuit with $250,000. Find a new way to create something original.

  • NM

    Cameras are given a price, we pay for them.

  • R0c1

    It’s called copyright infringement.

  • Sharon

    As a photographer and painter I wouldn’t rip off anyone’s ideas,so I use my own photos as a basis for some paintings,easy,sometimes you have to do the leg work yourself

  • wyatt_e

    Exactly. “I didn’t steal it, I just took it without asking.” Sounds like a child’s explanation.

  • Art of Copying

    Art, while you’re correct in saying “you post, you lose” as a practical matter in a culture of casual infringement, in a legal sense, you’re entirely incorrect. Posting something online does not make unauthorized uses “fair,” especially when the unauthorized use is to make something for sale, such Miranda was trying to do with his work.

    Additionally, I don’t see how you can make that claim that Miranda’s works are “original efforts” or “very good works” since the only thing you can tell from the small images in the article (gross artistic choices like composition and lighting) are so obviously the work of Levesque and Killen that attributing them to Miranda is intellectually dishonest. Reducing Levesque’s and Killen’s work to pressing a button is disgusting, especially for someone going by the handle “Art of Photography.”

  • G

    Maybe if photographers started copying cameras and selling the copies there would be some point in this comparison. Giving credit for having used a camera, that you paid for(!), doesn’t make any sense though..

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremyharrisphotographs Jeremy Harris

    Because the photographer who’s work was stolen wanted his 15 minutes. By stirring up the mob online, he also got people see his work and take note of it. Publicity, man!