Photographer Creates Value For His Work By Making it Worth Stealing

Photographer Lukas Renlund recently traveled to Cape Town, South Africa where he had his "Steal My Photograph!" photo exhibition. This is the forth show/exhibition of its kind, in which he asked random people who passed by to try and steal his work. He decided to create value (or at least perception of value) for his art by making it worthy of stealing. And of course make it into a fun exhibition people will share with their friends and will remember for a long time. Check out his short BTS video of his most recent exhibition, and read his exclusive interview about the whole project.

FS: What inspired you to start the  "Steal My Photograph!" project? What was the idea behind it?

LR: "I was looking for a way to both market myself in an original way as well as to involve people in my photo-art. Another goal was to offer my audience an unforgettable experience. I was further inspired by an old Chinese proverb that goes something like this: "Tell me and I'll forget, show me and I'll remember, teach me and I'll understand, involve me and I'll tell my friends"."

In the process I had an insight — art, in itself, has no real value. What I mean by this, is that it is difficult to put a price tag on art. What then determines an artworks value? Well, the buyer’s perception of its value. So I decided to make my art worth stealing.

With “Steal My Photograph!” (SMP), my outdoor exhibitions, I invite people who pass them to steal my work. In return, I ask my Art Thieves to hang their stolen art anywhere they like and to send me a picture of it. I then share the photos I receive with my followers on social media platforms. 

Furthermore, I film my exhibitions and edit them into two-minute long videos, which I publish online. They allow me to reach a much bigger audience. I strive to make every show different from the one before. It keeps it interesting for those who are following the project and also pushes me to reinvent myself each and every time." 

FS: This is not the first time you let people steal your photos. When did you start with this project?

LR: "I’ve been on the road with “Steal My Photograph!” for roughly a year now. But I must admit that Cape Town slowed me down a tad. It felt like just the place to be when Europe was freezing over this year! There will be a final exhibition in Helsinki in August. After that I will be moving on to other projects which are already in the pipeline. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s been a great year!"

FS: How many framed photos do you let people steal during each exhibition?

LR: "It all depends. As I mentioned, every exhibition is laid out differently. Sometimes there may be over 40 of them up for grabs, as in Copenhagen’s case. But other times I’ve managed with up to 25 photographs. There’s a whole lot of work that goes into preparing each exhibit. Not to mention the printing and framing of each photograph."

FS: How much does it cost you to do this? is it worth it on the long run in your opinion (marketing-wise)?

LR: "It is difficult to put an exact figure on. The same goes for measuring the ROI from this type of endeavor. About a year ago I was given a grant from Svenska Kulturfonden — a cultural fund that supports the arts, literature and bunch of cultural initiatives in Finland. They decided to support a year of travel for me because they liked the idea behind my concept. I’ve been on the road ever since. Their backing means a lot to me. Frankly, this wouldn’t have been possible to do without their support. 

To come back to your question... I would estimate that each exhibition costs between 1,000 to 2,000 Euros in total to pull off, all inclusive. The price tag doesn’t tell the whole story though. Travel in general can be costly, or cheap, but it is more fun if you combine it with leisure activities. I personally have found this to be the case more often than not.  "


FS: Can you tell us about a surprising or a cool moment you experienced during the exhibition?

LR: "The unexpected moments are the greatest. Believe it or not, participants of SMP will push themselves out of their comfort zones to steal a piece of art. For many, it’s taboo. It is so healthy to expand ones boundaries. I genuinely believe that the memories they get from stealing a photograph straight from the artist will remain in their hearts for years to come. It is cool to give them such an opportunity and it also makes for a sweet story that they can tell their friends about (apropos the Chinese proverb in my first answered question).
I occasionally receive short stories from my Art Thieves. Here is one of my favorite ones - This was sent from Hans in Germany:  

I stumbled upon your “Steal My Photograph!” exhibition in Copenhagen by coincidence. I was on my way back to Germany from a holiday in Norway. Coincidentally I happened to steal a photograph taken at the Vigeland Park in Oslo. My wife and I had visited it only two days earlier! As I am working as a judge, stealing something does not occur to me very often. But I have to admit I had great fun doing so! I thought it might be a good idea to place your photo in my office at the court where I am working. A stolen photograph displaced in a court of justice - this is quite unusual, don’t you think?”

FS: So, what's next? More "Steal My Photograph!" shows - or off to something new?

LR: "Let me just say that Helsinki city is the place to be on August 21st. This time around “Steal My Photograph!” will be happening on my home turf and I aim to make it a special one to remember. You can follow my Facebook page  to receive updates on this upcoming exhibition in Finland. I also post about other cool stuff that I’m currently developing. Most noteworthy is my endeavor to pursue Motion Photography as a full-time niche. In short, my new company 'Not So Fast Media' will strive to bridge the gap between video and still imagery. For us, this is 'Motion Photography’. And, we welcome anybody interested in visual discovery to follow us in this magnificent journey. Steve Jobs said it nicely: stay hungry, stay foolish. We are indeed extremely hungry and foolish enough to believe that we can change the way we perceive digital photography today."


Photos by Sydelle Willow Smith - All images used with permission.

Noam Galai's picture

Noam Galai is a Senior Fstoppers Staff Writer and NYC Celebrity / Entertainment photographer. Noam's work appears on publications such as Time Magazine, New York Times, People Magazine, Vogue and Us Weekly on a daily basis.

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What a different idea. I've never heard of anything like this before, it perks peoples interest and leaves an unforgettable memory. Genius.

Yes good idea ..... Just make me smile ... i like it

Thanks, Sara and Robert!

Unique concept. Its a most try!