Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Noseful of That

I know, I just wrote yesterday that I wouldn't be posting much this summer. But this is a perfect excuse for a blog post.

Above, another example of the disregard with which visual cultural materials are treated when they're not "Art." The illustration above was reprinted in the New York Times on June 17, 2009. It accompanied an article by Abby Ellin about the use of olfactory stimulation to suppress appetite for weight-loss purposes.

The credit line for the illustration was "Advertising Archive," an aggregator of advertisements and periodical illustrations which sells usage rights to material they've scanned and dumped in their database.

I don't begrudge the Times or Advertising Archive their business purposes, but where is the credit for this illustrator? I am pretty sure that the piece was produced by Robert O. Reid, a midcentury illustrator who did a lot of work for Collier's. I can't be certain. The waitress's impossibly thin waist and the blend of cartooning and volumetric handling are staples of Reid's work, although the brushwork is a little rougher. It's possible that this is an imitator of Reid's style.

The conventions of periodical publishing at the time (circa 1940) included clear illustrator credits. They know whose work this is. Why is it acceptable to treat such material as if it had washed up on the beach?

For the record: a brief biographical note about Reid can be found in the online resources of the Charles Craver Tearsheet Collection in the Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University in St. Louis. The Reid image below is an interior illustration for the August 26, 1939 edition of Collier's.

This is more evidence of an unacceptable gulf between the standards applied to what is conventionally called "fine art" and other forms of visual material. You could certainly find aggregations of artworks from the 1940s for publishing applications, all of which would require the citation of the artist. Zealously so. Red flag, people! Illustrations, cartoons, and other published images are not now, and have never been, produced by "the culture." They're made by actual people who are active participants in the creation of the things we live among, and by which we are influenced.

This should be fixed via correction in the Times.

Hat tip to emerging illustrator and former student Rachel Harris, who brought this to my attention. (I take the daily Times, but missed it.) Thanks, Rachel!


laurie norton moffatt said...

Did you submit your blog/letter to the Times?

DB Dowd said...

Did, just. Thanks!

MikeC said...

In related news, apparently the Orphan Works bill is rearing it's ugly head again:

IPA Orphan Works Blog

Terry Brown said...

Advertising Archive and such are the logical proponents of the Orphan Works legislation.

If this image was originally bought before 1950 as a "first time North American English language rights only" for a magazine or advertiser, and it is unlikely that Reid or whomever renewed that copyright 26 years later, then it is in the public domain. Ripe for plucking and reselling access to it. That resale is not a new copyrightable image but the ability to find it, download it and use it bares a price.

If this piece was for an ad agency, they generally bought all rights and as a corporation own those rights for 75 years. That makes the Advertising Archives an infringer.

And here is where OW comes into play.

The Archives claims in court that they tried to find the copyright owner but was unsuccessful. Judge rules against them. The plaintiff receives $200US!
What contingeny lawyer is taking that case? The current penalty is $150,000 per infringement. Legal counsel is standing by.

Thanks, Doug, for bringing this up.

As for illustrator credit, those artists Corbis and Getty sure are prolific!

DB Dowd said...

Terry and Mike, thanks for the Orphan Works notes.

I have struggled with the OW debate, because I see it from two sides: illustrator and critic. I have burned up a ton of time chasing down image permissions from defunct publications and obscure estates. I think a micropayment system of some kind should be the baseline. Ultimately I am more concerned with credit, as in this case, than with the cash. But I am not as well-informed on the specifics of the legislation as I should be, and that's my fault.

Alan T. Reid said...

Both illustrations are by my father Robert O. Reid. I recall the second one well and the first appears authentic. He died in 1947.

I have never been contacted about rights to the images.
Alan T. Reid

DB Dowd said...

Alan, are you out there? I would be very eager to correspond with you about your father's work--he is a favorite of mine, and we have some of his tearsheets here at Washington University, where I teach. Please send me an email if you are interested!

Bill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill said...

Alan! Please get in touch with me regarding your father and his art. I have been wanting to put together an article or book about him for a while now. I also have an article written about him from the 40s where you are mentioned! Do you have any copies of the plays he wrote? I can be reached at wmaio57 @