Given the power of the Internet, if you steal someone’s work it’s almost inevitable you’ll be outed for your crimes eventually. And that’s exactly what happened when one Canadian artist stole a series of images for a $15,000 commission.
Two years ago, Artist Derek Michael Besant created an exhibit after being commissioned to make an underpass “more neighborly” as part of an enhancement project.
It was alleged that Besant visited the tunnel, engaged in conversation with passers-bys and took their portraits for the installation. In his own words, he said he “didn’t want to decorate anything,” adding, “I wanted it to reflect something about the site. I thought the context of the place was more critical to address than putting a picture of something [unrelated] in there.”
The final result, entitled “Snapshots,” consisted of 20 large photographs, each a blurred portrait with a quote layered over the top. Besant then began indulging in magazine interviews in order to promote the exhibition, talking fondly of the different types of people he had met. It wasn’t until one of the subjects featured in the project had a friend contact her, that it emerged something was wrong.
U.K. Comedian Bisha Ali took to Twitter after her Canadian friend had flagged what she believed was a picture of her.
Despite the blur, Ali recognized the photo to be a headshot of herself. Doing some digging into the project, she was shocked to discover the photo had been used as part of the $15,000, government-funded project. It only got worse for Besant when it materialized that Ali knew a number of the other subjects, also fellow comedians, from the photos. Since then, Comedian Sofie Hagen has also confirmed one of the portraits to be a photo of her; it had been minorly altered, and used without her knowledge or consent.
Further investigation reveals Besant had lifted almost the entirety of the images featured in his exhibition from the program of the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a series of comedy shows, which explained why Ali was familiar so many of the faces.
Such controversy erupted that Calgory Mayor Naheed Nenshi ordered an investigation. Following a request from a presumably embarrassed Besant, the installment has, as of last week, been removed. He has since apologized, saying he believed the photos to be ““already out in the public domain,” and seems to have taken down his website.
Lead image by Adrianna Calvo.