Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos.

Latin: Whoever’s is the soil, it is theirs all the way to heaven and all the way to hell.

So, now that I knew I wanted to go ahead and create contemporary art using the images from the interior of kaleidoscopes, I had legal questions that needed answering. And as you already know, lawyers don’t come cheap.

I located a lawyer who specializes in copyright issues. I told him what I was up to and he said he’d look into it. Apprently he had never dealt with a case like mine and was curious to find out what the big books had to say about it. What legal insight did our hard-earned money buy me? This: I cannot profit from the images of kaleidoscopes (interior or exterior) without consent from the artist.

With that consent, however, the photos of the interiors are copyrighted to me as the artist. Although I own the rights to the images, I give credit to the artist wherever possible, as I know full well that my success as a photographer isn’t possible without their success as a kaleidoscope maker.

Of the handful of artists I reached out to — inquiring if I could take photographs of their work — only one sent me a “cease and desist” letter. Okay, it wasn’t an actual cease and desist letter as I hadn’t profited from taking photos of their kaleidoscopes. But they didn’t mince their words. I removed their scope from my studio without hesitation and without any hard feelings on my part as they were certainly within their rights to refuse.

It gave me pause. Kaleidoscope artists often include lower-quality images of their kaleidoscopes on their websites so purchasers are able to have an idea of what to expect of the interior. Artists are busy spending their time creating works of art using glass and mirrors of a different sort than a camera, so I undertand their focused energy. But why, I asked myself, didn’t the artists see how the images could be used to promote their work? Don’t misunderstand me; I wasn’t questioning why they didn’t see the value of my photographs. Rather, why didn’t they see the value and potential of taking high quality photos themselves? Cozy Baker authored coffee table books full of exquisite photographs of the interior of kaleidoscopes. Why weren’t others being inspired to do the same?

So much time and effort is spent on the exterior, and of course for some, the interior. But to me, such a presentation is incomplete without a proper representation of the interior of the scopes. Isn’t that a big part of what the buyers are interested in? That’s where the allurement is truly sated. It’s a high form of workmanship all on its own, and shouldn’t be given short shrift. If the artist who refused my photographs only knew what could be done with their fine craftmanship, I think they would have reconsidered. (I wasn’t given the opportunity to show them what I did.) They produce incredible work that makes for one-of-a-kind images. Now they’ll never know what that would look like on their wall as contemporary art photography.

I asked my husband what I should do. “Learn how to make kaleidoscopes so you can take photos of your own work,” he replied.


An image from one of my homemade scopes.

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