The idea for the project that would challenge everything sacred about ownership in photography came to Richard Prince when he was working in the tear-sheet department at Time Inc. While he deconstructed the pages of magazines for the archives, Prince’s attention was drawn to the ads that appeared alongside articles. One ad in particular caught his eye: the macho image of the Marlboro Man riding a horse under blue skies. And so, in a process he came to call rephotography, Prince took pictures of the ads and cropped out the type, leaving only the iconic cowboy and his surroundings. That Prince didn’t take the original picture meant little to collectors. In 2005 Untitled (Cowboy) sold for $1.2 million at auction, then the highest publicly recorded price for the sale of a contemporary photograph.
Others were less enthusiastic. Prince was sued by a photographer for using copyrighted images, but the courts ruled largely in Prince’s favor. That wasn’t his only victory. Prince’s rephotography helped to create a new art form—photography of photography—that foreshadowed the era of digital sharing and upended our understanding of a photo’s authenticity and ownership.