Photographer Says Artist Copied Her Iconic Photo

Comparison of Cheryl Miller's photo Sunglass Corner and Nate Ladson's painting.
Cheryl Miller’s 1980 photo Sunglass Corner, left, Nate Ladson’s painting, right.

A photographer has filed a copyright infringement claim against an artist who allegedly replicated her photograph as a painting.

Cheryl Miller is a photographer known for her black-and-white image Sunglass Corner which depicts four men posing outside a store with the words of the artwork’s title written on the window in Manhattan, New York in 1980.

Sunglass Corner by Cheryl Miller
Sunglass Corner by Cheryl Miller

According to New York Daily News, veteran photographer Miller was stunned to see that her most iconic photograph had been reproduced as a painting by artist Nate Ladson.

The painting by Nate Ladson
The painting by Nate Ladson

However, longtime artist Ladson alleges that his seemingly near-identical painting is not based on Miller’s photograph.

Instead, the artist claims that he based his painting on an old photograph from the book Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900-1968 which was published in 1969.

But the New York Daily News reports that the image that resembled Miller’s Sunglass Corner does not appear anywhere in the 258-page book from which Ladson says he drew his inspiration.

Miller has responded by filing a copyright infringement claim with the Copyright Claims Board (CCB), a tribunal established in 2020 to provide an alternative to federal court.

The photographer is seeking $30,000 in damages which is the maximum penalty that can be imposed by the board.

According to court documents seen by UPI, Miller discovered Ladson’s painting after a friend told her the artwork being considered for an exhibition at a gallery in Manhattan in December 2021.

“As a photographer for over 40 years, Sunglass Corner is my signature photographic piece. It is the image that I am known for and is easily recognizable as my work,” Miller says in the documents.

Miller explains that the photograph helped launch her career and has been “published and exhibited widely,” with limited edition prints being sold for around $1,500 each to collectors.

“Reproducing the image cheapens and devalues it tremendously. I’ve invested years, time, and money honing my craft and skill as a self-taught photographer,” Miller continues.

“This infringement has also threatened my reputation as a professional. I can’t have the authenticity of my work questioned at this stage of my career.”

The CCB was established by the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2020 to allow creators a small claims court-style system to challenge copyright violations.

The CCB just started hearing cases in June and Miller’s claim is one of the first to gain media attention.

Miller’s case with the CCB against Ladson could set a precedent for how lesser-known photographers seek damages when their copyright is violated.

However, if Ladson prevails, artists may have more power to use a photographer’s work as reference material without the possibility of any legal consequences.