Art

‘Frustrating, upsetting’: S’porean photographer accuses Luxembourg artist of copying her work to win award

SINGAPORE — A Singaporean photographer has accused an artist based in Luxembourg of copying her work as part of a painting, which he later displayed at an exhibition and won a cash prize of €1,500 (S$2,200) for it.

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The photographer, 34-year-old Zhang Jingna, told TODAY: “It’s frustrating and upsetting, especially when I was told that this artwork had won a prize and he was proudly claiming full credit for the work and doing press with it.”

Ms Zhang, who is also known as “zemotion” on her social media accounts, is based in the United States. She was listed in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list in 2018 and her works have appeared in multiple editions of fashion magazines Elle and Vogue.

On June 1, she posted on Instagram a side-by-side comparison of her photo and an artwork by Luxembourg art student Jeff Dieschburg.

The photo, which features South Korean model Ji Hye Park, was originally shot for the cover story of Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam’s November 2017 issue.

Ms Zhang’s photo and Mr Dieschburg’s work are strikingly similar, but with slight differences such as the color of the model’s clothes and the direction she is facing.

Ms Zhang said that she was alerted to the artwork towards the end of May when two people from Luxembourg emailed her about a possible case of plagiarism.

One of them saw the artwork displayed at the Contemporary Art Biennale in Strassen, Luxembourg this year, while the other saw the painting when Mr. Dieschburg posted it online around a year ago.

For the artwork, Mr Dieschburg won the Prix d’Encouragement, an award for emerging artists at the biennale, which was held at the Cultural Center Paul Barble in May this year.

Delano, an English language publication for expatriates living in Luxembourg, reported that the jury who awarded the prize is consulting a “specialist” over the allegation of plagiarism.

Ms Zhang wrote on her Instagram post that when confronted by others, Mr Dieschburg sent her an email stating that he “had created an image in an artisanal way with different colours, flipped the photo and added earrings and a sword”.

In response to TODAY’s queries, Mr Dieschburg’s lawyer, Mr Gaston Vogel, sent a compilation of 24 pieces of artwork that were similar to Ms Zhang’s photo.

“Did she give the authorisation to all these people?… What was her response as a hundred others did the same?” he said, adding that it was “ridiculous” and declined to comment further.

When asked if Ms Zhang was aware of these copies, her lawyer, Mr Vincent Wellens, said that some of the people concerned had asked for permission while Ms Zhang
had also pursued some of them who did not.

She was not aware of several other paintings based on her work while others had shown “substantial differences in relation to her pictures”, he added.

The photographer herself said: “I’m always happy to let students reference my work for studies or practice, so long as it’s not for official portfolios, commercial gain and always credited.

“But people using photos without legally licensing them or seeking permission happens way too often.”

A day after Ms Zhang’s post, another artist Bekka Bjorke, based in the US, took to Twitter to accuse Mr. Dieschburg of copying her work as well.

“He’s apparently ripped off my own photography numerous times as well,” she tweeted and included pictures of her own photos.

When asked if she intends to take legal action, Ms Zhang said: “I had no intention of taking legal actions. Cases like these are usually settled out of court.”

TODAY has reached out to the Strassen municipality in Luxembourg and Ms Bjorke for comment.

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