Cindy Crawford: the picture that was, or wasn't ...

This Kat is usually about as far away from the world of fashion as can be. Indeed, he barely recognized the name of Cindy Crawford when a picture of the 49-year supermodel went viral last month. What grabbed everyone's attention was lingerie-clad Crawford's less than taut midriff as well as other bodily signs that age had begun to take revenge on her picture-perfect figure. The picture was said to have taken in connection with the preparation of a cover story for a December 2013 issue of the magazine Marie Claire's Mexico and Latin America edition. How the photo came to be published is not known. The magazine issued a statement saying:
"No matter where the photo came from, it's an enlightenment - we've always known Crawford was beautiful, but seeing her like this only makes us love her more."
The publication of the photo caused a torrent of comment on the internet about how visual images of supermodels at the height of their careers place a premium on perfection and the extent to which the need to appear perfect is perfectly mated with the ability to alter a photograph. Most of us are never in attendance at the catwalk where designers show their new collection via strutting models, much less are any of us present when a photographer and a model are involved in a picture-shooting session. The result is that our impressions of a model and the sheer beauty that she conveys is framed by pictures and other visual contexts, in which we are never certain the extent to which the perfection that we are seeing is real or is partially a function of the retouching or other visual manipulation of the image. The statement of the magazine well reflected the view expressed on the internet -- that Crawford was giving us a different meaning for beauty, where the model comes to terms with herself and challenges the viewer to reconfigure his understanding in that context.

But a report has now surfaced that in fact it may be the case that it was the picture itself that was doctored. According to the report, the photographer, John Russo, is claiming that the original photo was stolen and that changes were made to Crawford's midriff to make her look worse than she really does. Russo is threatening to sue those responsible for the altered photo. As well, he is asking online outlets to take down the apologize.

Against this background, an interesting IP back story is taking place. From the copyright perspective, we have claims being made by the photographer, which are presumably based on copyright and, to the extent that a jurisdiction will permit, moral rights resulting from the alleged material distortion of the photo. As for the copyright claim, it first and foremost depends upon his owning the copyright in the photo. As for the moral rights claim, since that right will reside with the photographer, the issue is finding a jurisdiction that enforces moral rights in this sense (indeed, this Kat many years ago published an article that considered the challenges of foreign-shopping in filing a moral rights claim.) And what about fair use--shouldn't the public be allowed to republish the picture in order to facilitate comment on it in light of the pubic discourse that has arisen since its publication? There is also an inversion of the role played by the retouching of the photo of a model. It is usually the case that such doctoring is intended to enhance the visual image, even at the price of distortion; here, the opposite is true.

There is also a reputation issue here. Is Crawford's reputation better off or worse off as a result of this episode (assuming that Russo is accurate in his claims that the picture had been doctored)? What is interesting is that Crawford has not commented on any of this (although her husband posted a pool-side picture showing her midriff in perfect shape). On the one hand, Crawford was the recipient of much praise for coming to terms with her body, thereby removing the distance between her and her admirers. On the other hand, Crawford is a fabuously successful businesswoman (who, this Kat notes, was valedictorian of her high school class and the recipient of an scholarship to study chemical engineering at Northwestern University). The root of her success until now derives from her supermodel, picture-perfect beauty. Is it time to rework that image, based on the positive statements following the publication of the picture (and the fact that she is nearly 50), or does she still need to hang on to her current image? Or perhaps the trick is for her to balance between them. This Kat, for one, would not bet against her; after all, she is reported to be a descendent of no less than Charlemagne.
Cindy Crawford: the picture that was, or wasn't ... Cindy Crawford: the picture that was, or wasn't ... Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Friday, March 06, 2015 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. Neil, this is a great topic.

    The analysis is compounded by the challenges of first principles: what is the work. Because the moral rights tie into the underlying work. And in this case, finding the work is almost as complex as unbundling a computer program into its proprietary and open source elements….

    When a fashion photographer takes a photo (work) of a model (perhaps adorned with limited edition articles of clothing and accessories such as jewellery , belts and shoes bearing soles of different colours) thus including a number of articles both visible and invisible,

    And when the context of that photo or video represents a choreographed performance of beautiful models (work) whose clothing (work) has been compiled (work) to present a beautiful display of logos (work) which are communicated over the internet (rights)…..well, you get the general point here ……lots of works and lots of moral rights to be concerned about when adapting for further enjoyment…..

    Throw into that fact the debate over how to protect fashion articles of clothing (copyright? design? sui generous? not at all?) and we have some very interesting weekend reading….

    ---signed - one who should probably spend more time on choosing her wardrobe than on such reflections….


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