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The Painter and the Photograph

Bob Dylan, "The Asia Series," catalogues, 2011

Bob Dylan, “The Asia Series,” catalogues, 2011

Most if not all of Bob Dylan’s “Asia Series” paintings are based on identifiable photographs not of Dylan’s making — none of them recent, but at least some of which remain under copyright protection. This revelation, which came as the paintings got exhibited for the first time at Gagosian Gallery in New York in the fall of 2011, sparked my interest as both a photo critic and a dedicated Dylan listener since 1961.

Those reporting and commenting on this disclosure fell into three categories: art critics who knew little about photography and less about standard practice in roots music; music critics and Dylanologists who knew little about photography and less about standard practice in art; and cultural journalists with only a smattering of knowledge about standard practices in art, photography, or roots music. Though collectively they managed to identify the photographic sources of much of Dylan’s iconography for his canvases, they shed more heat than light on Dylan’s usage of photographs as source material specifically and the much more widespread practice of painting from photographs in general.

Seemed like a context in which a photography critic grounded in Dylan’s music could prove useful, as well as a perfect starting point for a discussion of the two-way interchange between painting and photography in contemporary art. The posts to date:

• The Photographer and the Painting (3) ― 9/28/13. In which I consider the hypocrisy and double standards involved in berating painters for working from photographs while keeping mum when photographers replicate painters.

• The Photographer and the Painting (2) ― 9/22/13. In which I point to projects by Peter Lindbergh, Hisaji Hara, Flora Borsi, Amy Arbus, and the faculty and students of the Rochester Institute of Technology as examples of photographs specifically created in imitation of copyrighted paintings, wondering how come those who object strenuously to painters working from photos have nothing to say about such acts.

• Guest Post 10: J. Ross Baughman on Leon Golub ― 9/19/13. In which, as an illuminating sidebar, this Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist offers an account of a collaborative situation in which the late American painter Leon Golub worked directly from one of Baughman’s photographs.

• The Photographer and the Painting (1) ― 9/15/13. In which I recap the earlier series, laying a groundwork for considering the reverse situation ― photographers working from paintings.

Bruce Gilden, "Asakasa, Japan," 1998. From his Magnum blog. Photograph copyright © by Bruce Gilden.

Bruce Gilden, “Asakasa, Japan,” 1998. From his Magnum blog. Photograph copyright © by Bruce Gilden.

• Bob Dylan: The Painter and the Photograph (5) — 10/30/11. In which I bring up the long history of painters working from photographs in various ways, consider the response to those practices from knowledgeable art and photography critics and historians, and begin an examination of the IP issues involved.

• Bob Dylan: The Painter and the Photograph (4) — 10/23/11. In which I address further examples of duplicitous language from Dylan’s marketers and defenders, and analyze the differences between plagiarism and influence, while at the same time exposing the lamentable ignorance of art, photography, and music manifested by many of the commentators on this matter.

• Bob Dylan: The Painter and the Photograph (3) — 10/21/11. In which I visit the Gagosian Gallery and spent time with the paintings in Bob Dylan’s “Asia Series,” weighing them as artworks based on direct encounter, and going into the larger question of “celebrity art.”

• Bob Dylan: The Painter and the Photograph (2) — 10/18/11. In which I dissect the evasive, disingenuous, and even deceitful language used by Dylan and his gallery representatives in addressing his usage of photographs as source material.

• Bob Dylan: The Painter and the Photograph (1) — 10/10/11. In which I open my own commentary by providing some backstory covering Dylan’s long-term involvement with the visual arts, including his brief but influential period of study with the mysterious Norman Raeben.

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