February 27, 2004
Barbara T. Hoffman, Esq.
New York, NY xxx
††††††††††† Re:† Susan Meiselas
Dear Ms. Hoffman:
I received your letter dated February 24, 2004 on behalf of Susan Meiselas concerning a painting of mine entitled, Molotov.† The first thing that I would like to say to Susan is that I never had any awareness that I was modeling my painting from a photograph by her.† Indeed, the photograph which you attached to your letter is not what I saw and not what I thought was a reasonable subject for my painting.†
I would like Susan to know that this series of work, under the title Riot, was about people in some state of extreme emotional distress engaged in some sort of act of defiance.† In these works, I tried to focus on the emotional aspect of the person, and not the context of the personís rage or other feeling.† In Molotov, the figure, in his moment of action, is removed from his surroundings; the context, cause, time and place, or justice of his actions are irrelevant and not portrayed.† Since my work deals with real people in real situations, I must, by the nature of my work, refer to photographs.† In this regard, I make a concerted effort to look for people and photographs which have not been widely seen before.† In other words, I am not looking to comment on well known examples of rage, but rather on examples that may not have been seen before.† Therefore, I found the subject for Molotov on some anarchist website and what I found there was not Susanís photograph, but rather only the portion that I painted.† There was no gun, and there was no one surrounding the person, only his face, upper torso and the flaming bottle he was about to throw.† Therefore, I had, once again, no idea that this was a photograph by Susan Meiselas.† In fact, had I been aware of that, I would not have used this source because, as I said before, I am not looking for previously recognized work, just the opposite.†
While I hope that Susan would appreciate that I had no way of knowing that I was looking at a portion of a photograph of hers, I am hurt by the suggestion that I have engaged in copyright infringement.† I respect Susan Meiselas and the photojournalism that she pursues.† I also recognize that any photograph, regardless of how literal it might be, is affected by the personal influence of the photographer.† But, I also believe that news photographs are in a different category of photography where there is an important public interest in a dialogue over the event recorded by the photographer.† Moreover, my use is not a copy of her photograph, but a transformative reference apparently to one portion, with many of the elements that qualify photography as protected expression removed.† For example, the subject matter, the lighting, the image detail and perhaps even the basic narrative is quite different in my painting than in the actual event that Susan happened to be on the scene to record.† Thus, it is somewhat aggressive for her to come after me for my distinctly different take on one component of her photograph (although admittedly, a central component).† Thus, to the extent that Susan is conveying a point of principal, I have a countervailing principal that I hold dearly as well.†
Notwithstanding all of the foregoing, I am more than willing to credit Susan as a source and I am more than willing to assure her that I have made only this painting and it is not a subject that I intend to repeat.† Therefore, I am willing to commit to Susan, by this letter, that in any exhibition or reproduction of Molotov over which I have any control, I will place a credit following the title/description of the painting, which says: ďFrom a photograph © Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos, 1978.Ē† I also agree and pledge not to make any further artworks that would use any portion of Susanís photograph as a source, nor would I make any future work utilizing my painting (Molotov) as a source.† Thus, this painting will be the only expression I will make of this person.† I cannot agree to seek written approval from Susan any time my painting might be reproduced somewhere.† This is far too difficult a burden to accept under the circumstances (but once again, I will require the credit).†
I also am enclosing two slides of Molotov for Susan.†
I hope that the foregoing is satisfactory to Susan and I hope that she will understand I had no intention of using a work by her, and absolutely no intention of offending her in any manner.