Clancy Gebler Davies had an award-winning photo withdrawn from an international show after a fellow photographer claimed her winning entry was ineligible because he had taken the picture.
Gebler Davies was delighted when the British Journal of Photography (BJP) informed her that she was the Female in Focus 2021 single image winner for her self-portrait where she is covered in hair.
However, photographer William Corbett claims authorship to the image, entitled Hersuit, because he pressed the button on the camera and suggested that he had made creative decisions.
Gebler Davies spoke to PetaPixel and countered that Corbett only pressed the button when she told him to and had “absolutely no editorial input whatsoever.”
“He was recommended by two male photographers friends and I explained it was a simple studio shoot of me in costume that I would be directing. He told me he could do that,” she says.
“Just to be crystal clear, he had no involvement in the concept, planning, or finance.
“Any claim that I was Corbett’s ‘model’ is farcical. I set the entire HerSuit shoot up including the position of the lighting, the tripod, and where and how I was positioned.”
Gebler Davies says that giving instruction while being covered in hair under studio lights was difficult, but after every two or three frames she made Corbett come up and show her the images. She also says that Corbett seemed “uncomfortable” in the studio.
“It was a conscious decision not to use a remote shutter, and shoot it myself. It would have changed the nature of the image,” explains Gebler Davies.
“It shows Corbett’s total misunderstanding of photography that he cannot grasp that this is my work and that it is a self-portrait. He was a technician paid to press the shutter because I couldn’t.”
After being told that she was the winner of the award, which champions women, the BJP phoned Gebler Davies to say that there had been a claim from another artist who said it wasn’t her work.
“The BJP has removed all reference to my award. All they will tell me is that Corbett has made an allegation that it is his work, not mine,” she says.
“The BJP requested a detailed account of the shoot which I gave them, complete with statements from other people working for me that day and in the studio at the time.”
The Female in Focus award aims to enable people who identify as women photographers to “own their own stories,” but Gebler Davies says: “They have done the opposite to me.”
“At one point the BJP awards manager even asked if Corbett identified as female — as she said that would have solved the problem.”
PetaPixel spoke with the BJP but it refuses to comment publicly on the matter.
PetaPixel also spoke to Corbett who says that Gebler Davies employed him as a photographer and argues that she should never have submitted the work to a photography contest.
“Clancy’s version of it is complete fantasy. It was a prestigious female award they would never have taken it off her for a male,” he says.
“She was wrapped in the hair for eight hours. She didn’t choose the lens, camera, ISO, or shutter speed. She didn’t make any of the creative decisions. She’s made a complete fool of herself,” he continues.
“I’ve been a photographer for nearly 40 years, the idea that she hired me as an assistant is laughable. I used to do hair stuff for all of the top stylists,” he adds.
“It was two years ago, if she’s still trying to grind the axe. She’s deluded.”
The entire sorry episode has left Gebler Davies devastated and disenchanted with photography, particularly after she was subject to trolling online.
“It’s very easy for people to tell me to forget about it and move on. That’s hard when HerSuit is such an important part of my work and when so much of the online abuse has been so personal,” she says.
“Winning in Female in Focus in the Single Image category should have been a major moment in my career — something I could build on. It has been pivotal — but for all the wrong reasons.
“My work is very distinctive and he’s done nothing remotely like it but his word trump’s my evidence, apparently.”
An intellectual property lawyer spoke to The Times about the case, who says that the rights of authorship depended on whether Corbett had significant creative input.
For example, Damien Hirst is regarded as the sole author of paintings that were executed by his studio assistants because he was the “creative genius” behind the concept.
Hersuit was supposed to be exhibited by the BJP in Miami but was excluded from it. The photograph appeared at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in 2018 where it was handpicked by artist Grayson Perry.
More of Gebler Davies’s work can be found on her Instagram.