Denton Artist's Show Celebrates Hijacked Images

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Artist Irby Pace and the picture that started it all.

Like most modern romances, Irby Pace fell in love in a Mac store. It happened when he was sliding his way across the photo roll on a demo Ipod, and there she was.

He just knew.

"I saw this one," said Pace while directing his eyes to the photo exhibition's flagship piece, an image of a girl's face, cheek bones and below. Her headphones tuck back her effortless Zooey Deschanel locks allowing them to trail in front of her stitch-tattered little league shirt. Pace continues, "The way it's cropped and how it relates to the technology that it was taken on -- to me, it's beautiful."

That's when it all began, soon Pace wanted to see more accidentally perfect pictures, so he started cruising all of the handheld devices, finding his favorite images and either emailing or texting them to himself. This is when things got dicey. He was developing an idea to showcase the pictures as a photography exhibition, a rather unique one in that he would not personally take a single photo, and none of his subjects are knowingly participating, despite having authored their own images. Another barrier between Pace and his goal was his collection methods; he was going to need hundreds, if not thousands of pictures to properly curate the show.

So, he hooked up his iPad and took 'em.

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It's a curious situation. After all, the images themselves were abandoned, but whose property are they? Nobody participating in Pace's exhibition Unintended Consequences deleted their photos, and many posed intentionally as though to leave an artifact behind. But how would they feel if they walked into the Cora Stafford Gallery this week and saw their own image blown up at twice its natural size? If mortified, would they have any legal recourse, and if blame is warranted, who is at fault? After all, if you forget to log out of your Gmail or Facebook in a public place someone will likely teach you a lesson in privacy by updating your status for you, or worse.

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Many people have created art based on discarded photo booth strips, and the world cooed collectively in the film Amelie when Tautou's love interest hoarded the things. But to formally plunk coins, pose, wait for the image to print, examine it and then toss it aside is methodically intentional, unlike here. As a culture plunged into a technology quagmire we've grown numb to the frequency that our digital image is captured.

While it isn't tactile like a series of images from a booth, Pace's digital salvage follows a similar path -- one that couldn't have been predicted by his subjects when they casually snapped their own pictures at the Mac store.

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After Wired picked up the story last week, things just got bigger for Irby Pace. Some commenters expressed sizable concern on the matter. "They called me a creeper," Pace said softly while gazing at the prints.

The exponential growth in exposure led Pace to meet with an art lawyer and discuss the legalities before the show opens today. His counsel believes that Pace has artistic intention on his side, assuming Apple doesn't take a formal stand on the issue. If the company chooses to claim ownership of the images and apply pressure over copyright infringement, Pace, who's only months away from his MFA at the University of North Texas, would then be in a very sticky pickle.

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As Pace positions the prints around the gallery you can see his fondness for his subjects. Each image nudges a smile and coaxes the viewer in, giving a tiny window into each life represented. You can't help but draft stories about these people and feel uplifted by the collection, despite how it was garnered. It's the brightest side of people watching, but laced with a heavy dose of modern technology. It's refreshing, exciting, and yeah, pretty damn hip. "That's what I love about it," Pace said "It was as though they were all participating in an unknown community art project."

Unintended Consequences opens today and runs only through Friday at UNT's Cora Stafford Gallery in Denton, Texas. The show's reception will be held on Thursday evening from 5 to 8 p.m. To learn more about Irby Pace, check out images from the exhibition and creep around his other work, visit his website.

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