Who's to say?
Molly Soda lives in Detroit. She used to live in Chicago. A guy in Chicago found some of her old photos in the trash and gave them to another guy in Chicago named Paul-David Young, "an occasional curator who works in the imaging department at the Art Institute." Young was fascinated by the photos, and figured he had discovered some sort of found-art treasure trove. He decided that he was going to escalate this anonymous (so he thought) girl's photography into art. He organized a gallery show and the Chicago Reader wrote about it. "Some are trash, some have merit," Young told the Reader. "There are moments of brilliance and bravery and moments of youthful narcissism. They're very earnest and sincere."
The thing is, though, that Molly Soda is not anonymous. She's an artist and internet person with over 14,000 Twitter followers. She sold a video piece at the prestigious Phillips auction house just a few months after her castoffs were found last summer. She's less anonymous than Paul-David Young, whose Tweets are currently protected and is not the first Google result for "Paul-David Young."
Animal New York, who has covered Molly Soda before, called Young out. Writer Marina Galperina noted that the lead photo on the Chicago Reader story, a nude self-portrait, could have easily been found on Molly Soda's old Flickr page (when she went by her government name, Amalia Soto) by doing a reverse image search. He responded, "I do not think of these as Molly Soda's photos."
Young and Soda both acknowledged questions of ownership. "I recognize a philosophical juncture that once they were in the trash, ownership ceased," Young told Animal NY, while Soda said, "it’s funny ’cause I always talk about ownership and letting go of ownership once you put something on the Internet, so it’s interesting that this is happening IRL too."
Beyond ownership of art, this is also an issue of ownership of self. A nude picture of Molly Soda is being publicly displayed without her consent. The image is available online, posted by the artist herself. Does that justify Young's exhibition, or is it beside the point? Did Molly Soda waive her right to privacy by throwing these pictures away?
And the biggest question of all: if you tried to explain this situation to someone who doesn't know what Tumblr is, could you make them understand?
image via Molly Soda's Tumblr