Notes on the assignment Appropriation by Betsy Schneider

(please feel free to use all or any of this assignment and text) –

Assignment with questions for the students on the next page.

It doesn’t hurt to start with someone like Richard Prince, who for many reasons provokes a strong reaction. (there is a great video to watch about him from Time Magazine: But we also look at Sultan and Mandel, Penolope Umbrico, Carrie Mae Weems, and Nigel Poor’s work with the San Quentin Archives Christian Boltanski, Mark Klett and Elijah Gowin have all created significant work using appropriated images just to name a few somewhat arbitrary examples.

Technically it can be great around really basic Photoshop work in terms of sizing and pasting, and if you chose image montage. If you allow your students to create collages this can also be a way that they go. You can also start by having them make handmade collages and studying say Martha Rossler’s and Robert Rauschenberg’s work. Bringing in the historical and political dimensions. 

I emphasize that they should consider the idea of transformation of the image. The question comes to when they have made the image their own. 

I encourage them to think about the artistic dimension: is it meaningful art?

The personal ethical dimension—what are their thoughts about how they sourced the image and what it does to the original intent. Richard Prince for example may win court cases and make “good” art, but there is plenty of room for ethical objections to his work. 

 The legal dimension– which can also lead to a lot of other thoughts on who controls ideas and the power of the image, fair use and how manifestations of ideas can and can’t be used. I try to emphasize that these are different dimensions but can be ways to consider how they evaluate the idea of transformation. 



A photo of Richard Prince.

Richard Prince

His luminous 1989 photographs of Marlboro ads, minus the text, made Richard Prince a deeply controversial—and eventually very wealthy—artist of appropriation.

A photo of Sultan & Mandel.

Sultan & Mandel

Drawing together the history of California, science fiction, technological experimentation and catastrophe, this In Focus examines how Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s Evidence complicates the conventions and assumptions of photographic truth.


A photo of .

The images in Sunset Portraits from Sunset Pictures on Flickr are from the same source as the Suns from Sunsets from Flickr. For Sunset Portraits I found images where technology of the camera is exposing for the sun, not the people in front of it, thereby erasing the subjectivity of the individual.

A photo of Carrie Mae Weems.

Carrie Mae Weems

“Narrative and storytelling is in the blood,” declares Carrie Mae Weems. Through a mixture of archival personal photos and the artist’s first major photo-documentary series, Family Pictures and Stories, Weems takes the viewer on a personal journey through her childhood in the 1950s to a broader examination of “the history of black subjects in photography” in the series From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried.

A photo of Nigel Poor and the Men of San Quentin.

Nigel Poor and the Men of San Quentin

The San Quentin Project: Nigel Poor and the Men of San Quentin State Prison follows the evolution of artist Nigel Poor’s (b. 1963) social art practice and her collaboration with the men incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California. The exhibition features visual documents made during this collaboration as well as photographs from the prison’s own archive.

A photo of Christian Boltanski.

Christian Boltanski

The Store House

Christian Boltanski’s The Store House, 1988 presents viewers with a series of seven large scale monochrome photographic portraits of young girls resting on a stack of aged un-labelled tin boxes, within which Boltanski placed selected scraps of fabric.


Weekly Assignment


What is Due:
10-20 images on a PDF

What To Do: 

For this assignment you are to create your own expressive work out of appropriated images.

First that you use appropriated images, that is pictures taken by someone other than yourself—for a purpose other than your creative output (for example Cindy Sherman doesn’t take her own pictures but they are meant for her art, so that’s not appropriation. Arguably using your own work in a way other than that for which it was originally intended and functioned could also be deemed appropriation perhaps—(Interesting question—Robert Frank–) but for the purpose of this assignment you need to use someone else’s pictures.

Secondly, that you transform the images into something that is your own creative vision.

Transformation may mean radically altering the image, through cropping, modification, digital editing, or the image could remain the same but the meaning could change based on sequence and editing, juxtaposition with other images, the addition of text or simply re-contextualizing it to create a new meaning. You must transform the meaning however.

Transformation can be very tricky to define and this is a place where legal and artistic definitions may differ, your own personal sense of transformation may be different from your classmates. Part of what I hope to encourage you to do with this assignment is to get you to think deeply about who can posses and idea and when does a picture become a manifestation of an idea? When does it belong to the creator? When does it belong to the common vocabulary?

Consider the artists we have studied this week. Think about how they use images by other people, from history or contemporary society, from popular culture or high art or even their own family photographs. Think about how they transform the original meaning and function of the images.

This assignment is designed to get you to consider how images express ideas that go beyond the creation of the images.


How ideas attach themselves to images, how context can radically alter what a photograph means, or how photographs can have multiple meanings depending on how they are used and who is using them.

Think about the ethical connotations of appropriation, sometimes it’s not really a transformation but rather a form of laziness at best and plagiarism at worst, are you just representing something that someone else has expressed?

How is your idea different from the original intent of the photograph or from how it is functioning?

Please be sure to indicate where you got the images and their original context. Consider the relationship between your idea and the original, are you taking it in a similar direction but changing the emphasis? Are you pulling out and highlighting specific meanings, or are you presenting the work ironically or contradictorily?

Also note that legal considerations and financial considerations are often conflated with ethical considerations. But these are very different concepts of how the manifestation of an idea is owned. Healthy culture depends on the free flow of ideas, but it also depends on a kind of integrity from the artists and thinkers. It is important to consider where ideas come from and to acknowledge how ideas develop and how they become manifest. It’s easy for someone to say “I thought of that” but credit does go to the one who “does it”. Consider the concept that is part of intellectual property law that ideas themselves cannot be owned but manifestations of ideas can. This begs a lot of complicated questions that are never fully resolved; your job with this assignment is to consider these things as you create something that is yours through images taken by someone else.

For the purpose of this class and only within this class copyright issues are not of concern—we assume educational “fair use”. If you decide to show the work beyond this class (including social media) you will have to research whether or not you have a right to do this.

The Instagram hashtag for this assignment is #Appropriation