About two weeks ago, I was drinking morning coffee in Las Vegas, about to leave for Salt Lake City and reading conflicting reviews on my twitter feed of Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In. I got a google alert that I was mentioned in post a on Flickr about Ty Morin, who was doing a kickstarter campaign to photograph all of his Facebook friends. I clicked on the link and saw that a stranger had pointed him to my project. I scanned it, was curious and headed on the road. By the time I got to SLC, I got another google alert. This time, I read that Mashable had covered his project. I clicked on the link. Writer Sam Laird promoted Ty's kickstarter + project and said:
"Morin's not the first to take on such a journey — artist Tanja Hollander is working through her friend list as well in something called The Facebook Portrait Project — but it's still a pretty cool idea."
What is "cool" about doing the same exact project as someone else? What is "cool," Mr. Laird, about not giving credit to your colleague Zoe Fox who covered this on Mashable last year? What is "cool" about intentionally (or not) stealing another person's IP? If gender roles were reversed would it be "cool" for a 20-something woman to copy a 40-year-old male artist? I have been contacted by only one reporter who sees this as "not cool." Why is that? Why is Ty Morin continuing to ignore my project? Does he have no artistic integrity? Is that "cool"?
A rush of unexpected feelings happened. I was angry. I was frustrated. I was hurt. I was appalled. I didn't care. But actually I do care. I care a lot. I have devoted the last two years of my life to this work. I have a 20-year career. I have done a TEDx talk about this work, lectured all over the country about this work, and had two museum shows about this work.
I am often been asked by students if I am concerned about Facebook / Instagram terms of service as they relate to having my work on the internet. It could be stolen. I know, I have always said, but I think sharing work is more important than suing people. In all of the discussions I've had, it has never occurred to me that someone would steal—knowingly or not—my idea. In fact, I encourage students to go on similar journeys—I have learned so much (which I have extensively written about).
Intellectually, I know imitation is the highest form of flattery. Intellectually, I know there is no such thing as an original idea. That is why I spent two months researching artists/photographers who travel, who photograph in homes, who use the internet, who use FACEBOOK. I spent a week on the Library of Congress' website looking at the FSA photographers. I talk about Robert Frank's book The Americans in every lecture I give. I read Sherry Turkle's book Alone Together. I follow the Pew studies. I contacted Arlyn Presser, who set off to visit all of her Facebook friends to cure her social anxiety. I learned about photo 2.0 and museum 2.0, and contacted both Andy Adams and Nina Simon. I learned about Nate Larson + Marni Shindelman's twitter project, and contacted them. I consulted with fellow artists, curators, historians and writers before I began.
All Mr. Morin had to do, was a simple google search of "facebook portrait project." My website comes up first. It may not be against the law to copy someone's exact concept and body of work, but it's wrong. The art world is small, the photo world even smaller. My guess is, this is something Mr. Morin has not thought about.
What do I want to happen? This is the question I keep asking myself. I want to know why the media and kickstarter continue to encourage this kind of behavior. I want Ty Morin to acknowledge that he is doing the exact same project as a colleague. I want all of us to think about what IP means. I want all of us to think about gender equality—specifically in the arts and tech world. The Twee Q gender study in particular is enlightening.
I want everyone who reads this to re-post it. Especially on every media site that covers his project. I want everyone to stand up, shout out, lean in every time you see something like this happen.