Tuesday, August 17, 2010

AWS gold medal controversy - the final word

Yesterday I read a post on a forum by professional photographer Annie Kitzman which appears to answer the question which was THE hot topic two years ago.  (see links at the end of this post). 
Was the gold medal winning painting at the centre of the American Watercolor Society controversy actually painted - or was it a giclee print? 
This is the post I ran at the time which explains what all the furore was about - Art competitions and copyright - the AWS Gold Medal debate

Annie Kitzman is the lady whose original comment on the subject in the Shutterstock Forum enabled me to know with absolute certainty what the investigation into the AWS controversy would conclude.  It seems very appropriate that she should also have the last word on the topic.

The original self-portrait - courtesy of Annie Kitzman

Back in 2008 Ms Kitzman comment recounted her own experience.  She had created a photographic self-portrait which had subsequently, in her opinion, been manipulated in Photoshop and was (at the time) being claimed as a watercolour painting by the artist at the centre of the controversy.  The photograph in question was a stock photograph sold on Shutterstock, no licence had ever been granted to the artist for a derivative work and so far as she could see it was no different to the original photograph other than the PS manipulations. This is a link to the photo in question which I found yesterday on Google.  It has been highlighted by another individual and attributed - erroneously - to its "place of origin" ie the website of the artist who won the gold medal of the American Watercolor Society in 2008.

Ms Luxemburg suggested the photographers had photographed her work hanging in an exhibition
- unaware Ms Kitzman had done a series of shots in compiling her self-portrait
In some articles I read back then, she was quoted as saying that we, the photographers whose images were used in her work, had stolen them from her!  It was suggested that we had all gone to an exhibition with a camera, took a picture of her finished art pieces and then uploaded them to the agencies as our work.....A better way to prove that I did not steal anything from her is to produce the original files.  How could I possibly get a series of like images by photographing an art print on display?  I could not....

I hate her rendition of my image ... but maybe I would feel differently if she had asked permission and given me credit as the photographic artist who created the original image rather than portraying it as her work alone.

Steal a baby and tell everyone you conceived her and gave birth to her? To me, it's the same thing, I conceived the idea, sat in front of my camera and photographed a series of images. I say to her ... Give me credit for my work, woman!

Annie Kitzman in an email to me dated 17.08.10.
For me, Ms Kitzman's comments on the Shutterstock forum at the time completely and utterly transformed the debate about the controversy about the gold-medal winning painting.  When I read what she had to say I knew what the answer to the question would be to the question of whether the gold medal winning piece was a painting or a giclee print.  As it happened that particular question was never answered in public because the AWS withdrew the award from Ms Luxemburg, asked for their $4,000 money back and disqualified her from ever entering future AWS competitions.  Their finding and subsequent actions were wholly based on the fact that she had failed to comply with the terms of the competition - ie the work was not original and the artist could not assert that she owned the copyright.

It was a lesson of some significance for all art societies and all those running art competitions.

Yesterday I read for the first time Ms Kitzman's comments in a her subsequent post (dated May 2009).  I've reproduced it below for educational purposes.

Her very personal account of what it felt like for her is as powerful an argument as I've ever come across for:
  • LEARNING about copyright and what the different forms of licences mean
  • ALWAYS observing a photographer's copyright and 
  • NOT tampering with the work of another artist - including photographers - without their explicit permission.
However the final paragraph also provides the final word and a neat end to this long-running saga about THAT PAINTING!  I too am not surprised.
Travis, I'm the woman in this painting that is named "Derailed" ... sheryl luxemburg

It's my self portrait. I sell it on Shutterstock. Ms Luxenburg manipulated my digital image in photoshop, darkened it and added contrast. She did nothing more to it that I can tell. It's exactly as I photographed it.

To answer your question ... how do I feel? I feel terrible. When I hear her name I get sick in my stomach. When I see that awful rendition of myself on that art website, I get sick in my stomach. I'm extremely upset. I thought the feeling of sickness would go away eventually but it has not. I was sick when I first saw it and still feel the same way. I feel abused. I feel raped, for lack of a better word.

The fact that she claims copyright of my image angers me. The fact that she did not ask my permission to use my copyrighted image and to sell it, in any medium, upsets me. I hate her rendition of my image and I think it's extremely ugly.

As for the image called "Impermanence", this is what I know. I was contacted last year, via phone call, by the person who removed the glass from the winning entry in the AWS competition. It was not a painting, there was no paint on the paper at all. It was ink on fine art paper, printed by an Epson printer. It was a glicee print. I wasn't surprised to hear that.


Talk Micro - Photos used as paintings - Interesting SS thread



  1. While this instance is a clear example of theft and fraud, I think manipulating a photo in PS and calling it a "digital watercolor" is also misleading. When entering an art competition and a "digital painting" wins, I wonder if they were completely honest about their entry. If it has an 'undo' button, it's not a painting. It's a photograph or computer creation. Painters can't crank out more than one true original. Be honest with the general public who may not know the difference.

  2. That is just almost unbelievable,isn't it. I make sure my students understand about working from someone else's image, that you MUST ask permission, that you have to be clear on what it is they're allowing, and that it is always, always best to work from your own images. Hard to believe someone would not only take someone else's image, doctor it a bit, and then pass it off as a different medium entirely. What on EARTH was this woman thinking??

  3. It's hard to believe this 'artist' was so naive to think she wouldn't be found out. The fact that the painting not only got into the competition but actually won is astounding and left the AWS with egg on their collective faces. I'm not surprised the art in question turned out to be nothing more than a giclee either. What I never considered was the impact it would have on the photographer and how violated she would feel. Thanks for posting the update, Katherine.

  4. Glad to hear the "final" word on this.

    Not only am I in agreement with Billie Crain's comments, I find it very disturbing what her "cheating" has done in terms to other artists who truly create in a photorealistic format. This whole debacle has made it much more difficult for those artists to be recognized for their talents and vision. It seems the consensus is "it must be a print!"

    It is unfortunate that she did not consider the impact of her actions on not ONLY herself, but on the industry as a whole.

  5. This is why I rarely enter these competitions. With giclees looking surprisingly like real paintings how can anyone ever be sure that the paintings are true originals ...unless the glass is removed and inspected. There has to be a better way.

  6. It would seem she is back


  7. Well spotted Vivien.

    Interestingly in the bio on her website I note Ms Luxenburg is claiming membership of The Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour which I was rather surprised about given the AWS incident. I checked and I can find no mention of her in their record of current active members or past members - on http://www.cspwc.com. I may just drop them a line to query this......

    1. I was searching something else and came across it quite by chance, I must admit to being more than a little surprised!

  8. Speaking as a hyperrealist painter. People like Sheryl Luxenburg are perplexing because their supposed paintings look extremely accomplished yet they are not in any of the major galleries that show photorealist work.

  9. @Chris I don't suppose any of the galleries would touch her work after the American Watercolor Society incident. When somebody is stripped of a gold medal, made to give the money back and is banned from ever entering an AWS art competition/exhibition again, it's not a name you forget quickly.

    I'm just wondering if the art societies she claims to be a member of are aware of her claims - because the website of at least one of them does not support her current Bio.

    Am I surprised? What do you think?


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