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On Watermarks and Signatures | by Thomas Hawk
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On Watermarks and Signatures

Earlier today I caught myself unfollowing someone on 500px because I clicked through on their photo and found this garish looking signature on their photograph. I know I'll probably take a lot of heat for this, but I HATE watermarks and signatures on photos and many of the particularly bad borders and frames as well -- so much so that more and more these days I'm not faving them or commenting on photos that I find them on and have actually started unfollowing some people who use them.

 

Some people will say that they put signatures on their photos to stop the "photo thieves." But I think that's just an excuse. It's so easy to remove almost any signature on a photo using content aware fill or other super easy tool in most image editing software. To me the real reason why people do it is that they think that it gives them some means of promotion for their work -- that and just pure ego. It's like an advertisement for their work - except that if I'm a contact and I'm looking at your work already, it feels dumb to me that you want to continuously hammer me with this same advert on your photos over and over and over again.

 

To me signatures are also a pure sign of an amateur (not that there is anything wrong with amateurs). William Eggleston doesn't use them. He has a copyright notice on his site, but on his photos on display on his site, none of them are overlayed with something that says "William Eggleston Copyright 2009, Fully Party Promotion Production BABY! Richard Avedon doesn't use them (RIP). The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite run by Ansel's son Michael Adams doesn't use them. Mary Ellen Mark doesn't use them.

 

Is your work so much better than these masters that it must be protected with your watermark?

 

Some of the best photosharing accounts that I know don't use them. Bernie DeChant doesn't use them. Ivan Makarov doesn't use them. Kelly Castro doesn't use them. WatermelonSugar doesn't use them. Bill Storage has some remarkable work up -- no signatures here either.

 

And yet some brand new account with some underexposed photo of a flower (not that there is anything wrong with flowers) somehow thinks that unless they have their name emblazoned across the bottom of their photo in 24pt Helvetica, that someone is going to "steal" their photograph.

 

For me looking at photos online is a new way of consuming art -- and online photosharing sites are sort of virtual museums for me in a way. If I went to see the Richard Avedon show at the SF MOMA and every print was stamped with a garish "COPYRIGHT RICHARD AVEDON" I'd be just as put off I think. But they aren't.

 

I don't use signatures or watermarks on my own work because I care about the art. I care about how it's presented to others. I want it to be beautiful. I want it to stand on it's own. I trust you. I respect you. I want you to see my work the best that it can possibly be and come back and see it again and again and again in the future.

 

As an artist my biggest ambition is to have my work seen and appreciated, at all costs. To get it out there and distributed as broadly as possible and to make it as welcome and inviting to those who might come and visit it.

 

I might blame the software makers for adding this functionality into their products -- but they only do this due to consumer demand and some people want this, I suppose.

 

The thing is that I have friends and photographers that I admire that use signatures. And some people feel super strong about them and so I'm sure some people will react badly to me saying how much I hate them. I certainly don't mean to upset people who do use them and feel this way. It's just an opinion. Really, don't hate on me for hating your watermark. If you want to use it, you just go right on using it. The important thing is that YOU like it. It's your art after all. This is just my blog and my opinion.

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Taken on December 13, 2007