Rob Oechsle’s interest for Oriental culture and lifestyle goes way back. To be precise, it dates back to 1973, when he was sent to the US Army Hospital to work during the last three years of the Vietnam War. “I married an Okinawan girl, and raised my three daughters there. We all spoke English, Japanese, and Okinawan. I already had a life-ling love of photography and history, so it was only natural to act on this affection for both by collecting images of the place I lived. Since Okinawa was culturally influenced by both Japan and China, old photographs depicting those two places formed the core of my collection” he explains.
On his Flickr account, called Okinawa Soba, Rob shares a collection of pictures, all public domain. “They were posted as a gift from me to those that want to use them for Blogging, Website illustrations, book illustrations, or even to Paint as Bob Dylan did ! However, in this world, when someone gives you a gift, it is considered good manners to say THANK YOU.”
That’s right – the photostream from Okinawa Soba was the source of 6 out of 18 of Bob Dylan’s painting, in the Asian Series exhibition at the Gagosian. Dylan’s paintings resemble the pictures in every small details, including the colors, position of the objects and framing.
We interviewed Mr. Oschsle, and he gave us some very interesting insights on his view of the whole situation. Check it out:
[FalaCultura] – Rob, when did you first become aware of the situation with My. Dylan’s painting in the Gagosian? What was your first reaction?
[Rob Oechsle] – I was made aware of this whole thing through a “Flickr Stats” link that pointed to the Bob Dylan Fan Site calledEXPECTING RAIN. My Flickr photostream was getting a lot of hits from there, and I wondered why. I soon discovered their discussion about Dylan’s use of other peoples photos as the basis for paintings in the ASIAN SERIES exhibition. I joined the site, and began posting my own comments about the situation.
[FC] – Have you tried to contact the Gagosian?
[RO] - I visited the Exhibition on 24 September to see Bob Dylan’s paintings first hand. I mentioned to some folks there (one staff member, and some visitors) that several of the paintings were based on photos in my Flickr account. However, I did so only in an off-hand, low-key manner. More than any other emotion, I suppose you could say I was amused by it all.
[FC] – In art, it is sometimes difficult to define what is inspiration and what is plagiarism. What do you believe makes this situation with Mr. Dylan plagiarism?
[RO] - By way of analogy, I will plagiarize your above question, and reproduce it below in the same manner as Dylan’s method of reproducing the photos.
(1) JULIANA’S QUESTION : “In art, it is sometimes difficult to define what is inspiration and what is plagiarism. What do you believe makes this situation with Mr. Dylan plagiarism?”
(2) BOB DYAN’S VERSION OF JULIANA’S QUESTION :
•• In art, it is sometimes difficult to define what is inspiration and what is plagiarism. What do you b e l i e v e makes this situation with Mr. Dylan plagiarism? • •
Do you see ? Bob simply copied the work, and decorated the copies with superficial changes of color and size. The substance is still the same, the context and content is still the same. There is no true inspiration of unique elements. If you quote Shakespeare, and only change the font, size and color of the letters, it does not make it a new thing or a new thought. It is still the same Shakespeare. That is how Dylan painted his ASIAN SERIES from the works of others, and why it is clearly plagiarism.
[FC] - What are the next steps that you will take? Are you thinking or planning any legal measure?
[RO] – I have already forgotten about it. No legal measures need to be taken.My photos on Flickr were all PUBLIC DOMAIN photographs. They were posted as a gift from me to those that want to use them for Blogging, Website illustrations, book illustrations, or even to Paint as Bob Dylan did ! However, in this world, when someone gives you a gift, it is considered good manners to say THANK YOU. Bob Dylan offers no thanks, no credit, and no explanation to the Gallery visitors of where the pictures came from. He also tells you nothing about the content. Many of the picture titles are wrong or misleading. The public announcements all proclaimed that Dylan painted these from his own “visual journal” (that means “Photo Album”) taken during his travels in Asia. Again, those explanations are all lies — most of the pictures he copied were made before he was born !
The exhibit is completely self-serving, does nothing for the advancement or the appreciation of art, and lowers the culture of art by presenting everything without regard for common courtesy, ethical considerations, or a love of truth.
[FC] – Do you need or want an apology from Bob Dylan?
Not at all ! No apology is needed, and I’m not upset by his use of the photos. My Flickr site clearly states that these pictures are free for everybody to use, free to convert to art, and there to use and have fun. My old-photo posts are based on original public domain images, and although most people do credit the collection, I’m also used to notgetting credit.
I’ve also had to deal with folks selling low-quality, pixelated copies of my Flickr posts on eBay, with their bogus copyrights and watermarks right on the scans. However, the questionable use of the images by some, and the occasional “ethical lapses” that occur are few. The vast majority of those accessing my Flickr account are civil and courteous, and make posting these photos worth it.
I am fairly familiar with Bob’s reported history of lifting lyrics for his songs. I think Bob might subscribe to the old adage that good artists borrow and great artists steal. But, even though Bob did nothing illegal as concerns the Flickr photos he used, it’s always nice when a social ethic is exercised where we say thank you, give credit where credit is due, and mention sources for the benefit of others who also might want to access the originals for their own projects.
Artists can have a strange set of ethics sometimes. Some want to borrow, copy, and steal — but God help the person who does the same thing to them!. I’ve seen and dealt with it all, and have been over that hump for 25 years. For me, to see Dylan’s exhibition, it was more like “here we go again” — someone copying from other sources and putting up stuff as his own.
Especially with the implication that was given out by Gagosian that these paintings were drawn from his “visual journal”, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Concerning the copyrighted images he used that are managed by various photo agencies, I am of the understanding that these might have been cleared by him, and if so, there has been no breach of law for anything he has produced — including my public domain images.
However, part of the conversation surrounding this whole issue is not one of legalities, but one of ethics. Some feel that “copyright” is an outdated concept, and that all material found on the web — be it music, text, or images — is there for you take, do with as you please, and the original composers, writers, or image makers be damned.
The idea that copyright holders and public domain providers don’t need to be credited, mentioned, or thanked for their contributions to the creative process is something many people subscribe to. However, when the words “Please”, Thank you”, “Your welcome” and “May I ?” start getting caste to the side in the course of our lives and business, the over-all degrading of society that follows will end up repressing art instead of extolling it.
As for that bad taste in my mouth over some aspects of the Dylan exhibition, again, I don’t need an apology — I just need a good mouthwash. After a swish of peppermint, everything will be fine !