George Dawe was an English portrait artist who painted 329 portraits of Russian generals active during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia for the Military Gallery of the Winter Palace, Saint Petersburg, Russia. I’m using digital copies of these paintings as a basis for my own work which involves incorporating celebrities into the paintings using photoshop.
I was always drawn to the fun side of image manipulation, the kind of stuff you can do using photos of your friends.
When I first started using photoshop I learnt quite a lot by trying to do that sort of stuff, turning people into JEDI’s, putting them onto movie posters, etc. Then gradually as the years went by I moved on to doing more professional retouching jobs and as I started to learn a different set of techniques I didn’t really do as much of the fun stuff anymore.
So… With that in mind. I decided to do some fun stuff! Yeah, why not!
One thing I’ve always wanted to try (I have a list) is to incorporate someone into a painting, mimicking the painterly brush strokes and making everything fit and work nicely and look natural and stuff. There’s an art to head swapping, I’ve seen so many awful attempts. The most important things to consider are anatomy, perspective and lighting. If you can get those things right, you’re more than halfway there. My artistic ability serves me well with this stuff, I can just tell if something looks wrong.
So I found a bunch of images online, faithful photographic reproductions of original artwork by George Dawe. He was an English portrait artist who lived in St Petersburg in 1819. He was commissioned to paint portraits of Russian Generals who had successfully fought Napoleon in the Patriotic War of 1812 and over a nine year period he completed over 300 of them.
Luckily for me the two dimensional works of art are in the public domain because the copyright has expired (under UK law this typically means the author died over 70 years ago) this means they can be used as a basis for a derivative work without permission.
The Copyright Office has stated that digitising an already existing work doesn’t create a copyrightable derivative work. Digitised versions are copies, and their copyright status depends on that of the pre-existing work. Therefore all photographic reproductions are also considered to be in the public domain. The work I’m creating is classified as ‘derivative work’ additionally, provided it is significantly different to the original work the derivative work will be subject to copyright in it’s own right, and I will own copyright to the new content that I have created.
But the creation of the derivative work must itself be an original work of skill, labour and judgement; minor alterations that do not substantially alter the original would not qualify. Also, no matter what you intend to do, the copyright status of the original work will remain unchanged.
Copyright law can be complicated but it’s important to know the legality of what you want to do if you intend to use other people’s work in your own.
Copyright © 2010 Steve Payne
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