The course material asks me what my thoughts are on Alec Soth’s Frank Album and whether there are any ethic issues with it?
Soth’s information about the concept is here: https://thefrankalbum.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/help-us-create-the-frank-album/. Nothing is shown of the finished work but I found this on Vimeo ..
The concept is interesting but not innovative; asking a public to contribute a story to a found (purchased) collection of photos without a history. Soth didn’t mind if contributions were fact or fiction – it seems an exercise in putting together the story of a stranger. I find the process more interesting than the outcome, which reminds me of looking at the lives of others on a soap opera or reality TV. The album is a collectable, commodified artwork, produced by the artist through his commercial business. Obviously, possessing something curated by Alec Soth is attractive for collectors. I suspect that it is this provenance that makes the work attractive, rather than anything special about the photographs themselves, which could have been taken from any family album.
While there are ethical codes for news and documentary photography, the ethics of art works seem to more fluid and must be taken in their own contexts. Frank is clearly identifiable from the images but it seems he was not traced, which is unsurprising given the limited circulation of the project. Therefore, it was not possible to ask permission from Frank or his family. There is nothing in the photographs that would seem to be harmful to Frank if published.
If I were Frank, I wouldn’t mind the photos being used in this way; a personal acid test. However, I don’t think there can be a blanket ethical position on the use of found photographs – they should be considered in the specific context of discovery, use and content.