of this year's contest winners, James Cooper, based his work on an
existing digital photograph by Joe Oppedisano. Here are the views
of the artists and the judges of the 2009 Contest.
Cooper - artist
I studied art &
design at college and life drawing was a subject which I loved.
The sense of achievement at being able to capture a likeness
of the human figure on paper was something that always gave
me a great buzz!
Crack Takes Over Your Life
(After Joe Oppedisano), 2009
Acrylic and colored pencil on canvas, 18” x 15"
have always joked with friends that if I could combine two
of my favourite subjects; admiring the male form and art,
it would be my perfect pastime. Out of the blue, earlier last
year, whilst reading a free gay supplement on a night out
in London, I came a cross an article about how Tom of Finland
Foundation was hosting an ‘Emerging Erotic Artist’
competition, it seemed to good to be true! I realised I had
get my finger out and start to find a subject for my submission
piece. I find muscular men most attractive and although friends
kindly offered their services as impromptu models they didn't
quite have the shape that I desired. So I started to search
for a pose that I could use with the options available to
me, luckily the internet is a place that provides millions
of accessible images both vintage and current.
I considered all
sorts of poses, some from pages of my 'Stade De Dieux' calendar
to the hundreds of stills from photo shoots on my favourite
internet porn star’s website, however, I couldn't seem
to find the right one. Then an image just blew me away, it was
from the book UNCENSORED by Joe Oppedisano, it had
everything; an awesomely hot model, striking pose, an unusual
lower view point, extreme light and dark skin tones highlighting
muscle definition and not forgetting possibly the most mouthwatering
'bubble butt' imaginable. I'd found the pose I had to use, if
I could capture in my painting an ounce of the eroticism which
oozed from the image, I would be over the moon.
I especially liked
the way the models butt was framed by the whiteness of the jockstrap
and how it almost appeared to rest on the baseball bat, I needed
though to add my own slant to the fantasy which had been created
by the photographer. As an amateur, I needed to think of how
I could work with the existing pose, yet try and inject something
to show my own creative skills. I originally thought about the
model holding a gun with his left hand, however, I didn't want
the viewers attention being taken away from the main focal point.
As a fan of word play I also wanted to include text which would
make reference to 'rimming' and how with this particular butt,
an act that would become ultimately highly addictive. It then
made sense to have the model pull the jockstrap down as if to
suggest what was to happen next...
Prior to this New
Year’s celebrations, a couple of friends and I had a wander
round the local gay area in Brighton. On entering a sex shop
I excitedly spotted a copy of UNCENSORED and whilst
flicking through the pages explained to my friends that I had
used a pose from this book in my competition submission which
was being revealed the next day. When I got back home and found
out that I had been placed 3rd in the Single Figure category
I was chuffed to bits, it was a great start to the New Year!
The following day, however, I got a rather ambiguous email about
how my entry had been removed from the winners list and so a
bit flummoxed I called the Foundation as to the problem. I was
informed that my painting was a duplicate piece of work done
by Joe Oppedisano and the photographer himself had contacted
them. My initial reaction was of elation in that someone had
recognised the pose and also being extremely star-struck, an
international photographer, whose book I had held a few days,
before had actually commented on my work! However, the penny
dropped and I learnt that actually this wasn't good news and
that he was actually unhappy with the situation. It had never
occurred to me that by using the pose it would be classed as
'appropriation' and more personally that I may have unintentionally
offended someone. If anything I had perhaps hoped that by using
the pose it may have been deemed, and to quote an old adage,
'Imitation being the highest form of flattery'.
James ‘Jambo’ Cooper
Oppedisano - artist
Thank you, really,
I do thank you, for thinking of my work as something inspirational.
I hope I don't offend, when I say this, as it is not to be taken
in any way offensive, but as a true flattery. Perhaps my immediate
rant about plagiarism was premature.
Batter Up, 2007
Digital Photograph, 16” x 20”
© 2008 Joe Oppedisano
Model: Jeremy Mulkahey
At 17 I was accepted to The Fashion Institute of Technology.
I became obsessed with fashion, clubs and being young, pretty,
and gay. That spring, I attended my first BLACK PARTY where
I was surrounded by macho, leather clad, hairy men with huge
mustaches and muscles, and hyper mascu-line drawings by a
man named TOM of Finland. I was obsessed. But scared shitless.
It was 1986, and AIDS was running rampant in New York City,
and out of nowhere, a safe-sex ad, drawn by the artist known
to me briefly, as TOM of Finland. I decided to research him,
and at once I was diving deep into years and years of homo-erotic
art that made me equally uncomfortable and aroused. But it was
fascinating. It was my fantasy of what men should be, and although
exaggerated, personified an ideal.
I changed my major to art history, studying in Florence, Italy,
and realized that TOM was not the first to create this hyper-exaggerated
ideal, but he was following in the footsteps of the masters
before him. Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci, Rafael, Caravaggio,
they all understood the and in their own way, created the
unified vision. Before them even, were the Greeks, the Roman's,
the Egyptians, he Aztecs, and so on, from the dawn of time.
In the meantime, Bruce Weber had created himself into the master
of mens photography, with one simple image for Calvin Klein
underwear, that re-created the Greek icons. Herb Ritts and Victor
Skribneski were going similar iconic imagery that was both bold,
erotic, yet was selling products to the world.
By 24, I was working as a freelance fashion director for W,
Vanity Fair, Details, Vogue, and L'Uomo Vogue.
It was not by chance, but by hard work, and the ability to grasp
trends and the reason for them and rehash them to the masses.
At 30, I was dressing celebrities, on tour with boy bands,
and Ricky Martin, and quite jaded about the fact that I had
done everything and more than I had ever dreamed possible. I
remember being given ten pages for a fashion story for L'Uomo
Vogue, with legendary photographer Arthur Elgort. It was
a simple shoot, denim. I brought Arthur the idea to shoot the
models (pre-Abercrombie & Fitch) as TOM of Finland drawings,
to actually re-create them, not the sexually explicit ones,
but the portraits, with the models in nothing but jeans. He
laughed, and although at the time I was crushed, it made the
jaded boy inside me start to see that maybe I hadn't done everything
One year later, I picked up a camera, and without any formal
training in lighting or the workings of a camera, started taking
pictures that recalled the icons I loved. Fast forward two years,
I got booked to photograph a fashion story for the now lost
GENRE magazine, and decided to take the idea I had
had years ago, and do it myself.
Flipping through pages of TOM's books, I found twelve images
I thought I could use, and since Abercrombie & Fitch had
changed the face of models to muscled and masculine, the timing
was perfect. I got five boys who I felt represented the TOM
man, and went out to a horse farm in New Jersey, on a 110 degree
day, and with my self-learned and acutely studied knowledge
of light, I tried to recreate, and pay homage to the man who
had thrust in my face, my own idea, a shared ideal.
The next few years were spent perfecting, experimenting,
and learning what it means to be a photographer. I was humble,
as I felt inferior, but I worked day and night in my search
for my own "look."
Years later, a book called TESTOSTERONE was published
with a collection of my work, which was inspired from all of
the artists above, as well as Helmut Newton, Jim French, the
movie Fight Club, as well as every step I had taken
in the thirty eight years I had been alive.
In the end, my message to you is this... don't "copy"
me, but be truly inspired by me, as I am of TOM, and the countless
hero's before and since him. That is the greatest flattery in
But I myself never cross the line of plagiarism. It's one thing
to study art, another to copy it.
I thank you, again, for considering me good enough to emulate,
but use my photos as if you had a life drawing model in front
of you, and then, when you create your own image, use the knowledge
and trials and tribulations of everyone before you, to create
something unique, your own statement.
Art is history, I haven't reinvented the wheel, but maybe just
added 4-wheel drive to what I've studied. The job of the artist
is to absorb everything he can, from his inspirations, the climate
of the times in which he lives, the trends of the day, the anger,
joy or repression he has felt, and combine them all into a statement
of his own. But, the artist must indeed feel them himself. Otherwise,
all he is doing is Xeroxing, and in a Xerox, so much of the
detail, pain and heart is lost. Only in this way can art move
forward, can people evolve, can changes be made.
My work represents my years growing up and my inner struggle
to be the best I could be, in every way, my disappointments
and my triumphs. This cannot be Xeroxed, this is personal, and
so, is art.
Go forward, and make me gag. THAT will be the greatest form
of flattery to me, to TOM, to Helmut, Herb, Bruce, Victor, and
everyone else that has touched your heart and rejuvenated and
inspired your brain.
Steve Day, Steve Night, 2004
Mamiya 645, Kodak Portra 100 film print
© 2008 Joe Oppedisano
Shot for GENRE magazine fashion story
OF FINLAND (Finnish)
Day & Night, 1980
Gouache on paper
Tom of Finland Foundation #80.10 – 80.11
© 1980 Tom of Finland® Foundation, Inc.
How do I use TOM
for inspiration? For these day/night series, it's obvious. I
was asked to shoot a super sexy suit story for the magazine.
The idea of a man
or anyone as "one" sided is insanity, so I chose to
use TOM's drawing to show that every man has an inner pig.
This was done also
as a history piece, as the writer wrote in the story how and
why I chose TOM to emulate, as that man is not just from one
era, but he lives in all of us.
Laura Henkel - judge
Mr. Cooper should
have tried to contact Mr. Oppedisano for permission. Regardless
if Cooper received permission or not, reference should have
been given to Mr. Oppediano's work in Mr. Cooper's piece. This
helps in two ways: the original body of work receives credit
which allows the viewer to acknowledge its value of importance
and Mr. Cooper would not have harmed his creditability as an
artist. If Mr. Cooper had acknowledged that it was solely an
inspirational rendering for no monetary gain, no harm. Since
Cooper created this piece for gain, there is harm. I can understand
why Mr. Oppedisano would be upset. I believe ToFF has the right
to disqualify the piece. I thought Mr. Cooper's version was
appealing and I enjoyed his modifications. It is unfortunate
that all parties had to undergo this in a very public manner;
however, this has been educational for all who have witnessed
this matter. As with anything in life, it is so important to
be responsible, respectable and consensual.
I hadn't spotted
the derivation of Mr Cooper's drawing, but it was immediately
obvious to me when judging the works that it and many others
entered in the contest had been based on photographs, a by no
means uncommon practice. Warhol got into trouble for this as
long ago as the mid-sixties, when he was sued for screenprinting
an image of flowers that he had found in magazines. Much more
recently other very celebrated artists, including Jeff Koons
and Damien Hirst, have encountered similar problems, while an
artist as visible and successful as the American painter Elizabeth
Peyton has produced countless portraits of celebrities based
very clearly on found photographs without (to my knowledge)
ending up in court.
In the 1980s there
were a number of artists who flaunted their use and recreation
of images created by others. Many of these became, and remain,
art world stars, like Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine and Mike
Bidlo. As with work by the pioneer of appropriation art in the
sixties, Sturtevant, their justification was that by so blatantly
recreating existing art they were provocatively questioning
notions of creativity and originality. Not everybody was ready,
by any means, to accept that argument, but their reputations
have certainly survived.
Perhaps the problem
in James Cooper's case is that he took a copyrighted image without
permission and without acknowledgment and used it, with minimal
reinterpretation, as the basis for his own picture. I am sure
it was done innocently, as many amateur and self-taught artists
would do, and without any view to monetary gain apart from the
possibility of winning a prize in this contest. I think it would
be rather cruel to deny him the prize, particularly given that
some of the other entries have probably also been based on copyrighted
photographs. Would it appease Joe Oppedisano if the use of his
original photographic image were acknowledged in the title of
Mr Cooper's work: Crack Takes Over Your Life (After
Joe Oppedisano), 2009?
The question of where
influence crosses over into copyright infringement is a tricky
one, as Mr Oppedisano himself acknowledges in the derivations
of some of his photographs from Tom of Finland drawings. Picasso
maintained that a good artist doesn't borrow, he steals.
I completely understand
that to see someone else copying his work, and being rewarded
in any way for doing so, would be particularly painful for Oppedisano
when he is fighting his own struggle for survival as an artist.
Perhaps by publishing his letter on this website something good
will come out of this for him, and that he will in turn allow
James Cooper his moment of success.
- With regards to
appropriation of art, I will refer to this on line source.
- The photograph
Batter Up is copyright of Mr. Joe Oppedisano.
- Mr. Cooper is
infringing on artist’s copyright with the art work:
Crack Takes Over Your Life.
- Mr. Cooper should
not be allowed to disseminate nor profit from the artwork
Crack Takes Over Your Life.
- Mr. Cooper should
only be allowed to show this original drawing in his studio,
as a “study or copy of the photograph Batter Up
by Joe Oppedisano.”
- Any publication
of the image Crack Takes Over Your Life should be
strictly prohibited, and is deemed illegal, as it is an infringement
on the copyright owned by Mr. Oppedisano (all media).
Taubenheim - judge
Creating Art Is
The idea of art is
communication. As an artist I want to share “how I see
myself and the world around me” by creating art and getting
people’s responses. Art is often a quote on something
that has touched the artist. Looking at other artists’
work and using it as a reference in your own work is a good
As an artist, it
makes me proud if people respond to my work or use it as an
inspiration for their own. If art creates a response or inspiration,
it is successful. What better can happen?
our 2005 Contest, voz_cierto used Tom Bianchi's photograph from the
book On the Couch as the basis for his submission. Here are
Mr. Bianchi's thoughts after reviewing both the 2005 and 2009 Contests.
Bianchi - artist
© 2002 - 2007 Tom Bianchi
Alone in Giovanni's Room, 2005
Acrylic on canvas, 14” x 15”
Grand Prize Winner
Tom of Finland Foundation’s
2005 Emerging Erotic Artist Contest
There is a difference
between “using a pose” and “copying”
another artists image. When I was in a high school art class,
we were given the assignment to make a copy of another artist’s
work. I chose a Lautrec and I don’t doubt that he’d
turn in his grave if he saw it. I learned something about Lautrec
– but I did not make a work of art. I did an academic
lesson. The point is, if you let the artist you copy solve all
the problems for you – composition, lighting, balance,
attitude etc etc – you are short changing yourself. There
is an expression about art making that I love and live by. “Every
artist stands on the shoulders of artists who came before him
to see a little further.” We want to know what YOU find
beautiful in life – and that requires you to give free
reign to your imagination and not be boxed in by someone else’s
My first book, OUT
OF THE STUDIO was intended to go beyond where Weber and
Ritts were with their unavailable pretty straight guys –
mostly in the case of Ritts - copies of his predecessors’
works. I saw the inherent internalized homophobia of that work
– and by challenging what I saw – I found my own
voice. Ritts was particularly unoriginal because he had a deep
need to be seen as an “artist”. But he did not have
an artist’s soul – one that would force him to be
original rather than produce product. Be fearless in saying
what you have to say and take the dialog beyond where it is.
Adding your “two cents” could put you in a place
where others coming up behind you can stand on your shoulders.
We need to honor and encourage art that respects that tradition.