US campaign video draws flak for not crediting Singaporean photographer

United States presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' campaign video (top) draws close parallels to Singaporean photographer John Clang's stop-motion advertisement for the 2009 United Nations' climate change conference (above).
United States presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' campaign video (left) draws close parallels to Singaporean photographer John Clang's stop-motion advertisement for the 2009 United Nations' climate change conference (right).PHOTOS: JOHN CLANG, HUMAN, LASALLE
John Clang
John Clang

A campaign video created by supporters of United States presidential candidate Bernie Sanders which has gone viral is getting flak for failing to credit the work of Singaporean photographer John Clang from the start.

The one-minute video, Together (bit.ly/20fiE8P), was uploaded on Vimeo two weeks ago. So far, it has garnered more than 2.6 million views.

Its style is similar to Clang's Hopenhagen (bit.ly/1mChsK2), a 30-second stop-motion advertisement created in collaboration with advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, for the 2009 United Nations' climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Sanders' viral video, Together, was praised for its visually arresting stop-motion technique, featuring portraits of different faces torn in half. Initially, it failed to credit the photographer's 2009 work.

Even the posters are similar. This is something Clang questioned on Facebook when he wrote: "I really can't say more if you fail to see the similarities."

I find it problematic that until it was pointed out ... the intellectual property of an artist's work was not even credited. For the creative team to say they used his technique and style and that he should be proud of the fact they used him as an inspiration is plain lame.

ADELINE KUEH, artist and senior lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts on the agency that produced US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders' campaign video

The credit line that appears towards the end of Together now reads: "Special thanks to John Clang for your beautiful photo/stop-motion technique inspiration."

In an e-mail response to The Straits Times, Clang, 43, who is based in New York, said: "It is not easy standing up for what you believe in when you are up against a viral campaign with so many supporters."

He felt it was important to take a stand, even though while growing up, he was told to "just keep quiet and endure when confronted".

"The rebellious side of me told me I have to stand up for myself and my fellow artists."

When he was first alerted to the clip by a friend on Feb 10, his immediate response was that the director had used his work.

"It was only after taking a closer look that I realised the work has a new set of images. Then I was told by my friend that the agency, Human, said on its Facebook page that it had thanked me personally, which it did not."

Clang's agent, The Collective Shift, had to call Human up to demand proper credit. When the credits were added, the agency cited other artists as well, saying it was influenced by many sources.

However, the photographer said: "I encourage creativity and, of course, understand appropriation in art. This is clearly not the case here. The agency is run by some young and passionate people. I like their passion and I just want to tell them to do the right thing so we can all move on."

The film's director and editor, Jonathan Olinger, said that in building Together, the volunteer creative team drew from a number of visual references and techniques to visually support a simple idea that they believed in - that of togetherness.

In an e-mail response, Olinger said: "We posted the video online under a tight deadline and never expected it would go viral or receive the attention it has. It was never our intention to not mention John or the other sources of inspiration and when we posted, we did not have all of our crediting in order.

"As artists, we are happy to give credit where credit is due and, beyond that, celebrate those who have come before us."

He added that when "the oversight" came to their attention, they updated "the video credits immediately to honour John as an original source of inspiration".

"We have apologised to John for not posting the acknowledgement when the film first launched and for how that made him feel as an artist. We have deep respect for him and were deeply inspired by his beautiful photo/stop-motion technique. We have thanked him and can only hope that other artists can find inspiration in our work as we have in his to create new and greater creative expressions to advance humanity."

Clang's Singapore gallerist Stephanie Fong, who runs Fost Gallery in Gillman Barracks, says given the proliferation of images on the Web and easy access to them, there is a greater need to acknowledge sources in general.

"It is unrealistic to expect that there will be no referencing, in varying extents, to other people's works and ideas. It is crucial that artists speak up when due credit is not given to them," she said.

The arts community, too, is lauding Clang's vocal stand on the issue.

Art student Deusa Blumke, who is doing her master's degree at Lasalle College of the Arts, has watched both videos and calls the parallels "striking".

"While this has been an unfortunate development, I believe it can highlight the deeper issues of copyright, inspiration and ownership of work," she said.

"By speaking up, John has heightened awareness of these issues."

Artist and senior lecturer Adeline Kueh, who oversaw Clang's master's dissertation at Lasalle College of the Arts last year, said: "I find it problematic that until it was pointed out and there was a social media outcry, the intellectual property of an artist's work was not even credited.

"Sadly, the apology is not even an apology. For the creative team to say they used his technique and style and that he should be proud of the fact they used him as an inspiration is plain lame."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline 'US campaign video draws flak for not crediting Singaporean photographer'. Print Edition | Subscribe