A British comedian says portraits of herself and her colleagues are being used in a public art installation in Calgary without any credit to the artists who shot them.
UPDATE — Wednesday, 4:21 p.m.: Derek Michael Besant, the artist who was commissioned to create the public art project, emailed HuffPost Canada to say he was sorry for his actions.
Bisha Ali, a screenwriter based in West London, told HuffPost Canada she only found out about the city-funded project from a friend she met in Vancouver more than 10 years ago at a summer camp.
Ali said the friend sent her a message on Monday saying "Hi Bisha, this is really weird, but I'm pretty sure I just passed your giant face in an underpass in Calgary."
Ali, 28, said she "instantly" knew it was her portrait — taken by photographer Jayde Adams — when the friend sent her the image. She took to Twitter to pen a thread on the discovery:
That's weird! Pics or it didn't happen, I say. So he sends me this: pic.twitter.com/QSX3tbx2dr— Bisha K Ali (@bishakali) November 27, 2017
The temporary installation, called "Snapshots," was set up at the 4th Street S.W. underpass in 2015, according the City of Calgary's website. It received $20,000 in public funding.
The lead artist is listed as Derek Michael Besant, a former instructor at the Alberta College of Art and Design. He retired from the school in August, according to CBC News.
To prepare for the project, Besant told Avenue Calgary in 2015 that he went to the underpass with a camera and a notepad. He said he chose to photograph 20 people he met at the location at random, according to the outlet. Besant said the lines of text that appear on each portrait come from the conversations he had at the underpass.
On Wednesday, after Ali's Twitter thread received heavy media coverage, Besant sent a statement to HuffPost Canada to say he thought the images were in the public domain, as he had seen them in a flyer.
"I've initiated that the temporary artwork be removed immediately and want to apologize to all concerned," he said in the statement.
"In no way did I ever mean to hurt anyone involved, and I am extremely sorry that this is the result of my misunderstanding."
On Tuesday, the city told HuffPost Canada that it was in touch with Besant. "The artist has said that we should remove the installation," said Kurt Hanson, general manager of community services, in an email.
"We will be doing this and are considering our next steps."
'Very strange thing to see'
Ali said she had never heard about the artist or the project prior to her friend's message. She said she was not asked for permission to use her likeness in a public project.
After seeing a photo of the rest of the installation, she said she "very quickly realized that these are all my colleagues here in the U.K. They're all comedians based out of the U.K."
"I wasn't expecting it. It's just a very strange thing to see," Ali said.
My giant face is in your country. And that's weird.
She was also surprised by the size of the prints. Each poster is six-by-seven feet, according to Avenue Calgary.
"My giant face is in your country," Ali said, "and that's weird."
Ali said her friend Isabelle Adam, who runs a Twitter account called Comedy Club 4 Kids, eventually joined in on the digital digging.
Adam said the images seemed to have been lifted from a 2015 brochure for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Just as update, @ComedyClub4Kids identified the rest of the photos as all being from the Edinburgh Fringe programme of 2015. Check their tweets for the comparison shots.— Bisha K Ali (@bishakali) November 28, 2017
These are the 12 headshots we've identified (so far). pic.twitter.com/gGruDjQXEO— Comedy Club 4 Kids (@ComedyClub4Kids) November 28, 2017
Others began chiming in. Fellow comic Janey Godley replied to the thread to say she was not contacted for permission for an image she had taken of her daughter Ashley Storrie, who is also a comedian.
Derek Michael Besant got paid $20k to produce an art installation, what he did was take pictures of Comedians from the Fringe Brochure, blur them and stick them on a wall. I don't remember signing up for that. pic.twitter.com/I5GDurIGrT— Ashley Storrie (@ashleystorrie) November 28, 2017
Ali said she has been in contact with some of the comics who appear in the project.
"A lot of them think it's silly and bizarre, but also like I said, everyone is really frustrated that no one been's asked [for] permission," she said.
"The people that we work with, the photographers and the artists we work with, we're kind of a network, we're in an industry that feeds off each other ... so when you see that the work of your colleagues is being stolen, essentially, and plagiarized, it can be quite frustrating and a lot of people are quite irritated and upset, I would say."
I kind of just want to hear why he did it.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said on Monday that he head ordered the project to be investigated, according to Global News, but Ali wants to hear from Besant himself.
"I think I just want an explanation. For me it's the audacity, it's amazing," she said.
"Many of the comedians whose photos he's used are like television-level, big-name comics out here. So it's the audacity of doing that. And he got away with it for two years? It just blows my mind. It's amazing."
"So I kind of just want to hear why he did it."
"I just want to hear how his brain works."
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Derek Michael Besant is a former, and not current, instructor at the Alberta College of Art and Design.
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