Richard Prince’s Cowboy (Appropriation Show and Tell)

by | Oct 4, 2018 | Show & Tell

A picture of a Marlboro advertisement beside Prince's cropped photo

I chose to talk about Richard Prince’s 1989 ‘rephotograph’ of a Marlboro advertisement. Prince’s photograph was named one of Times 100 most influential photos of all time, and sold for 1.2 million dollars at auction, but the authorship of the photograph is debatable. The photograph was legally determined to be fair use, with Prince transforming the photograph and the meaning behind it through purely subtractive means. Despite this many people, especially photographers, see Prince as nothing but a thief, profiting off of other’s work and calling it his own.

While I believe Prince himself had questionable intentions, claiming he thought all advertisements were public domain when he took his photograph, I believe the photograph itself has an immense amount of value. Prince calls into question the idea of advertisements, the idolization of the masculine and mysterious cowboy, and the ownership of art, all by cropping an image most people wouldn’t think twice about when presented in its original context.

Prince has continued his adversarial challenging of fair use with numerous collages and the display of Instagram posts in a gallery setting. While many many people view Prince’s work as derivative and question the classification of it as art, I believe the questions Prince raises through his photography are extremely valuable. What is America? What do we idolize? How are we manipulated?  What is ownership? What is art?