Stealing another creator’s work is perhaps one of the lowest things someone can do, but for another purported artist to steal demonstrates not only a severe lack of sense of community but an appalling lack of artistic sensibility.
Afterall, great artists copy, good artists steal may be an adage oft repeated by many but most assuredly did not refer to the actual theft of the work in total – rather it referred to the sentiment, the essence behind the work.
Well, one photographer in Canada, commissioned by the city of Calgary, allegedly took the carbon-copy approach to great artistry and stole photographs of comedians from the UK, blurred them out, and then affixed inane phrases over top of each face.
Derek Michael Besant’s commissioned work for the 4th Street S.W. Underpass Enhancement Project was noticed by a friend of United Kingdom-based comedian Bisha Ali, who was notified by a friend that her face was among those in the exhibition. Though blurred, Bisha recognized the photo as being one of hers taken by photographer Jayde Adams.
Ali did some more digging into the project and discovered more photos of fellow comedians utilized throughout. Her investigation led her to the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival of Comedy web page which featured the same blurred out photos used in Besant’s exhibition.
Of course, rather than scandalize an artist needlessly, this narrative has presented Ali’s discovery of her photo as well as other those of other comedians being used in a public art project by Besant.
The question remains, how did Besant get the photos? While most are certain he lifted them wholesale from the comedy website, how did he describe capturing these alleged residents of Calgary?
In statements to local press, Besant described the process to Avenue Calgary Magazine, saying he made frequent pilgrimages to the underpass with a camera, recorder, and a notepad, “photographing and interviewing passersby to capture profiles of them” according to a paraphrase from PetaPixel.
“I didn’t want to decorate anything…I wanted it to reflect something about the site. I thought the context of the place was more critical to address than put a picture of something in there.”
The blurred photos featured subjects Besant claimed to have encountered and the quotes were derived from his on-the-spot interviews with these Calgary residents.
According to Avenue Calgary Magazine, Besant said: “We encounter all theses different groups…They’re certainly concentrated in that one corridor. It’s a real a cross section of the city.”
After revealing that none of the pictures were his own, he claimed he thought they were in the public domain, which addresses none of the artistic journey described above.
The “artist” also asked the city to remove the pictures after the city announced an inquiry into the spending of public funds for such an exhibit.