An admitted mistake by Victoria artist Suzanne Heron of Blue Heron Art Enterprises over the use of photographs has ignited controversy in the local art community.
Heron’s work involves a stylus-equipped computer-graphics tool. She uses it to colour over existing photographs, resulting in a modified image with a more hand-painted look than the original.
Her images appear in calendars, greeting cards and as bigger prints on canvas, sold from a website. In the past, Heron has also borrowed, with permission, images from other photographers for her calendars and given them credit.
On Thursday, Heron said she made a mistake by using seven of those images by other photographers for items other than calendars, such as greeting cards and on canvas. In at least one case, no credit was given for the original photo.
Heron said she has since been advised that she should have sought permission from the photographers to use their images in ways not originally agreed.
“I made an assumption that permission was permission,” Heron said. “I absolutely should have gone back and checked.”
She said she has made contact with the four photographers involved and promised to hand over money received from the sale of images in formats not agreed upon. She estimates that figure is between $5,000 and $10,000.
The photographers “have all been professional, courteous and understanding,” Heron said.
But some reaction from the art community and online has differed, calling her out for fraud and theft. “It’s been a firestorm on social media,” Heron said.
Her Victoria printing company, Digital Direct Printing, has also been hit.
“We are all getting smeared by the same brush,” said Geoff Davis, Digital Direct Printing co-owner.
“And there is nothing I can do about it.”
The controversy initially arose when Greg Heubner visited the Sooke Fine Art Show on Aug. 1. He noticed an image by a local photographer he admires on sale, reprinted on canvas.
He contacted the photographer to let her know. The Times Colonist has not been able to reach that person.
The Sooke Fine Arts Society has issued a statement saying Heron’s work was removed from its July 28-Aug. 7 show after issues were found with her entries.
“As part of our submission criteria, we require artists to confirm they understand the requirement for original, non-derivative artwork,” he statement said. “We count on the integrity of artists.”
Those purchasing Heron’s work have also been advised and offered reimbursements, said the Sooke Fine Arts statement.
Jon Tupper, director of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, said the gallery was contacted recently by a photographer who said the gallery’s website was displaying an image of his but giving credit to Heron.
Tupper said the image was removed and two more of Heron’s images have been removed from the gallery’s website.
“I feel very bad for the artists,” he said. “This sort of thing can be very upsetting.”
Heron, 63, has been living in Victoria and on Lasqueti Island with her husband since 2007. The two moved from southern Ontario, where she was involved in community non-profit work. In 2011, she started Blue Heron Art Enterprises to supplement her retirement savings.
The Blue Heron website still displays calendars and images for sale in various formats and prices. Calendars cost from $19.99 to $24.99, greeting cards, $4.99, to digital prints on canvas for up to $395.
Heron is still struggling to deal with the fallout over her errors. “I have many failings and this one has hit me hard across the head,” said Heron. “I sometimes make assumptions based on my own perspective and just charge forward.”