Is appropriation appropriate?

Given that street photography itself is a long established valid art form, it is hard initially to see why using street view as a source should really be any different. Michael Wolf’s set ‘fuck you’ shows that there is a degree of resistance to street view itself. This would mainly be a resistance to the idea of ‘big brother’ watching, rather than disliking being photographed. It is not certain but seems reasonable to assume these people would not have the same response to being photographed by an individual.

It seems to me that street view becomes just another source for appropriation. Richard Prince and Barbara Kruger have both successfully repurposed photographs from magazines. It is this ‘repurposing’ that differentiates legitimate appropriation from plagiarism. In Geoff Dyer’s article on street view in the Guardian he mentions an ongoing copyright dispute between Patrick Cariou and Richard Prince. Since Dyer’s article is now six years old I imagined this case had since been decided. It is not particularly surprising to find out that although Prince largely won, the dispute was then settled out of court. Any view on whether enough repurposing is in play is always subjective.

This idea of repurposing seems just as important when using street view as the source. Dyer compares Michael Wolf’s work with similar themes used by Jon Rafman. He suggests that Rafman’s work does not seem to offer the same idea of repurposing as Wolf; the images are largely shown as they are with little in the way of thematic linking. This is might of course be a subjective opinion but it does seem to me to be crucial to the validity of using street view – or any appropriated medium – as a source.

Doug Rickard’s ‘A New American Picture’ takes it a step further by photographing the images on his computer screen. The website ( showing these images says this idea of rephotographing the images is “freeing the image from its technological origins and re-presenting them on a new documentary plane”. This seems to me to be too close to the original to constitute legitimate repurposing. Found images are one thing but just photographing an existing image and calling it something new does seem to be cheating to me.

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