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Untitled (Cowboy)
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Untitled (Cowboy) by Richard Prince is a pixilated photograph of a Marlboro cigarettes ad.

Richard Prince treats art in the same way that Christopher Columbus treated America – he just takes whatever he wants and deals with the consequences (or lack thereof) later. Prince dubbed this type of art, “rephotography” and it was a technique that he developed while working in the tear-sheet department at Time Inc. He was clipping articles and leaving behind only the ads, many of which were of the “Marlboro Man” a rugged, sexy cowboy performing his ranch duties while smoking a cigarette. The ad was created in order to counter Marlboro’s reputation of being a "lady" cigarette brand. Their slogan had been “Mild as May” until they realized that they were cutting out half of the population when it came to sales.

Philip Morris Co., who owned Marlboro, put the task of manning up their image in the hands of the Leo Burnett Agency. A photographer working for them, Jim Braddy, went out to the rodeo in Augusta, Montana in 1974 and found W.Z. "Herf" Ingersoll taking tickets. He was the perfect model for their campaign. He was manly, knew his way around a horse, and most importantly, had been smoking since he was 10 years old. The rancher turned model became the face of Marlboro’s ad campaign, the “Marlboro Man.” And finally men weren’t made uncomfortable by the thought of smoking sissy cigarettes. The campaign was one of the most successful in history and increased the company’s sales by 5000% in eight months.

Back at Time, Inc. Richard Prince, who didn’t know anything about photography, appropriation, or trademarks, began photographing these ads. He recalls: “I started taking pictures of the cowboys. You don’t see them out in public anymore—you can’t ride down a highway and see them on a billboard. But at Time, I was working with seven or eight magazines, and Marlboro had ads in almost all of them. Every week, I’d see one and be like, ‘Oh, that’s mine. Thank you.’ It’s sort of like beachcombing.” While this was just a workplace procrastination hobby, everything was fine. But soon Prince began making money off of the images.

This particular piece went for $1.2 million at auction in 2005, which was “then the highest publicly recorded price for the sale of a contemporary ­photograph.” Once Prince gained national recognition and exhibitions for “his” work, the Marlboro photographers, including Sam Abell and Norm Clasen, began to strike back with lawsuits. These lawsuits were largely unsuccessful for the original photographers and just made Richard Prince more popular.  But maybe it’s karma for making cigarettes so fuggin’ cool-looking, resulting in the smoking-related deaths of immense amounts of people, including the beautiful Marlboro Men themselves.

Sources

Sources

  1. Cohen, Alina. "Who Actually Shot Richard Prince’S Iconic Cowboys?." Artsy. N.p., 2018. Web. 27 Mar. 2018.
  2. "Cowboys." Guggenheim. Web. 27 Mar. 2018.
  3. Devlin, Vince. "Montana's Marlboro Man." missoulian.com. N.p., 2002. Web. 27 Mar. 2018.
  4. Goldberger, Ben, Paul Moakley, and Kira Pollack. "How This Photo Of A Cowboy Helped Create A New Artform." 100 Photographs | The Most Influential Images of All Time. N.p., 2018. Web. 27 Mar. 2018.
  5. "Richard Prince | Untitled (Cowboy) | The Met." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. Web. 27 Mar. 2018.