There's a lot of cats on Instagram. Food too.
And there's tons of photos of people who take photographs of themselves. (Yes, I know the word.)Richard Prince
In 2014 the notorious American appropriation artist Richard Prince held a series of exhibitions in the US titled ‘New Portraits’. That exhibition featured thirty-seven inkjet prints on high-quality art canvas of images or ‘screen saves’ that Prince had taken from the social media platform Instagram. For the purposes of his exhibition he had selected a range of photographs, all of which were originally produced by third parties, some of them professional photographers, others not. Many of these images had already been posted on Instagram, but a number had been selected from other sources and posted to Instagram by Prince for the purposes of his art, via his Instagram account.
Prince's method was prompted by discussions with his daughter regard-ing her own use of social media. Observing her use of the visual social media platforms Instagram and Tumblr, and inspired by his love for his iPhone, he began taking screenshots of Instagram images, reposting them to his own account, saving them to his personal gallery of images and experimenting with adding his own comments below the image, all practices facilitated and to some degree encouraged by the platform itself. Prince set up his first account on Instagram in 2013, singing the praises of the visual social media platform: ‘It's almost like it was invented for someone like myself … It's like carrying around a gallery in your pocket … Everything became easy. It was enjoyable. It reminded me of a free concert.’ As Prince has observed with glee, the existence of photograph-based social media platforms such as Instagram, mean that: ‘You replace rephotographing with screen grabs’.
Two of the images that were used by Prince as the basis for his ‘New Portraits’ are currently the subject of copyright disputes between Prince and the original photographers. While these cases are ongoing they raise clear issues not only about the relationship between copyright, the fair use and fair-dealing exceptions and art, but also the very nature of social media itself.