Adopt, recycle, détour.

“Nobody in particular” on being anonymous and reframing.

the stars federico clavarino


Nobody in particular’s The Stars open with two hypnotic hands of a trickster, or maybe a Tv presenter or a politician.
An oceanic crowd of people gathers: hundreds are giving a Roman salute, except one man, arm crossed, an expression of challenge in his eyes .
Now look closer: on the left page the crowd is different yet still the same: they might be waiting for the Pope to show from the balcony or watching baseball.

it doesn’t really matter.

An eye, a beard, a tight collar, a microphone, details of icons almost beyond recognition: Hitler, Mao, Gaddafi, Lennon among the others.



Cigars, ties, muscles, symbols of power reveal their game through the enlargement of their image: pixels, silver grain, dots starts showing up, the icons reveal their game: their real nature of copies of a copy of a copy.

IMG_8652The crowd doesn’t seem to notice: they’re still clapping hands, exulting to “the Stars”, like directed by an invisible orchestra leader.

A still man stands from the crowd, arm crossed, a look of challenge. Zoom in: a group of people, faded newspaper image of 1940s, zoom in: an almost unrecognisable face, zoom more: a silver burst dissolving in a shroud of xerox nothing.

On a visual level it works as a playful divertissement: the eye of the photographer sew up a pop dictionary by cropping, juxtaposing and contrasting dictators’ and rockstars’ traits with a crowd always different yet still the same.

the stars federico clavarinoJust below the pop compendium surface there’s a deeper level of reading, a criticism of power and the media diffusion of its symbols on the backdrop of an iconoclasm attitude ,

it might be the author has chosen to remain anonymous (or in his words: Nobody in particular) in order to take side with the crowd instead of becoming a “Star”

In such a game of appropriation, can he still be considered as an author ?

He’s the one re-shuffling the deck of the icons, re-contextualizing the messages to investigate the emptiness behind them and their the game of power, if he’s the man with the arm crossed lost in the crowd, maybe it’s right to say he’s nobody in particular.



Alex: Is my analysis completely off?

Nobody: No.


A: Why have you decided to remain anonymous? Or to be more precise, Nobody in particular.

I have decided to remain anonymous in order to set myself apart from celebrities, to give up authorship and be part of the mass of “nobodies” that history and the media do not record

A: Are you refusing authorship because of the source of the images you used?

N: I think both decisions (using found images and renouncing authorship) are consistent with the aim of the project which is that of speaking about the imagery of power and the mass. As what interests me are the images that the mass media produce, I have decided to recycle them. As I don’t want to side up with the celebrities, I have decided not to sign the work.


A: The name on the cover also means intellectual responsibility upon the work you propose to others, in our digital age how is the idea of authorship changing?

N: I think authorship is not changing that much as a lot of pseudo avant-garde intellectuals and artists are trying to make everyone believe. In the end they depend on the same market that makes profit using names and brands. Digital technology has brought incredible change, but substantial change will only come around when both the market and the culture change.


A: Are the Dada ready-mades being reinvented? Can an orphan work be considered a “found object”?

N: I think the key concept here is context. This work is made up of found objects but they are edited into a sequence, which creates a context in itself.


A: What do you think about the new book trend assembled using source material from internet / Television / security cameras?

N: If the method and material used to compile a book is both consistent and necessary to its aim, then it’s a good book. I think no society has ever looked at itself as much as ours, in terms of quantity and ubiquitousness of images, so to talk about it is important.

The danger, as with everything postmodern, is for it to become masturbatory and empty, just more witty useless stuff. There is no need for that


A: Do you think a body of work based upon appropriated and/or orphan material can be still considered “photography” or are we entering in a different field?

N: What is a photographer? What is a writer? These words only define the tool used, not its aim. One can write novels, television, cinema, ads. One can mix words, images, sound. We could also go as far as to say that cinema is photography, and it would be difficult to say that’s not technically true.



A: To what extent you reckon it’s legit to use other people’s work as a starting point for your own creation?

N: There is a wonderful moment in Herzog’s documentary about the paintings in caves at Chauvet, the oldest paintings currently known. There is evidence of a man getting to the caves and using a painting made 5000 years before him as a starting point for his own work. We should envy this man, so free as to disregard history and authorship and all that. I love the words Herzog used to describe the man, he said he “wasn’t locked in history”. I think we should try to be free as that man was.


A: We released “The stars” under a Creative Common” license. It’s still an experiment for Akinabooks but I think it can be a good way to facilitate the dissemination and availablity of a work, it also means that everybody can, for example, scan the images and print his own book without breaking any law if no commercial purpose is involved and if the copy is made for personal/educational use.

As far as I know in the photography field the Creative Common license is not very popular, do you have any thoughts about this? Are photographers over-jealous of their work?

N: I think there are different ways of using photographs which come with different attitudes towards copyright. A photojournalist would like to try and sell his/her single images or essays, so copyright helps them protect their profession. But that world is changing really fast. As for those working in the art market, they mainly get their money by selling prints, and that too is bound to change very soon, as digital technology gives everyone the possibility of scanning an image (printed in a book, for example) and print it with a very good quality. But the art market is absurd in itself and I don’t really find it that interesting.

Also I don’t care that much about an image’s copyright, I think an image alone means very little, its meaning depends on the context it is used in, and that’s when we can begin to talk about authorship as the intention of communicating content and of channeling interpretation.


A: What are the differences between working with your own images instead of something from external sources?

N: I think the only big change is in the experience of producing the images. It’s just a matter of having a different kind of fun. I sincerely prefer walking around and taking pictures, chatting to people and getting to know new situations. Working with images found on the web can be fun, but it’s not so deep an experience for me.



Nobody in Particular’s zine The Stars has been published by Akinabooks.



Be modern,
collectors, museums.
If you have old paintings,
do not despair.
Retain your memories
but détourn them
so that they correspond with your era.
Why reject the old
if one can modernize it
with a few strokes of the brush?
This casts a bit of contemporaneity
on your old culture.
Be up to date,
and distinguished
at the same time.
Painting is over.
You might as well finish it off.
Long live painting.

Asger Jorn


Links / Further readings :

Creative Commons website

Detournement as negation and prelude (from Internationale Situationniste #3, December 1959)

A User’s guide to Detournement (Guy Debord – Gil J. Wolman)

Détourned Painting (Asger Jorn)

Retouching a Classic: ‘Less Américains’

Intellectual property and the arts

Richard Prince and Gagosian fight back over copyright

US copyright office: fair use