Katherine Mintie

Katherine Mintie is a PhD candidate in the History of Art department at UC Berkeley. Her research focuses on the intersections of visual culture, particularly popular photography, and the law in the United States. She will complete her doctoral degree in August of 2017. 

Rights and Reproductions?: Commercial Photography and Copyright Law in the United States, 1884-1909


The Palisades, Alpine Pass, c. 1900. Photo by William Henry Jackson. Photochrom print by the Detroit Photograph Company (Library of Congress).

My dissertation “Rights and Reproductions?: Commercial Photography and Copyright Law in the United States, 1884-1909” examines confrontations between commercial photography and copyright law to elucidate shifts in the production and reception of photographic works in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. In basic terms, copyright law offers an individual author the exclusive right to make and sell copies of an original work. Produced in industrialized studios, reproduced using novel photomechanical processes, and intended for a mass audience, commercial photographs of this period challenged legal and popular conceptions of individual authorship, artistic originality, and criteria identifying a “copy.” Given these tensions, copyright cases functioned as sites of public debate over photographic aesthetics and value. To interpret the cases that comprise my project—which center on Western landscape views by William H. Jackson, ethnographic studies by F.A. Rinehart, and celebrity portraits by B.J. Falk—I examine both legal precedents and developments in American visual culture to view the contested photographs from the perspective of period judges and juries. Joining legal and art historical analysis, my dissertation demonstrates the central role of the law in shaping the production of American art and the simultaneous influence of popular visual culture on legal opinions. With the support of the Peter Palmquist Memorial Fund, I was able to travel to Denver, CO to conduct research in the Denver Public Library and History Colorado on mid-career western landscape photography of William Henry Jackson. 

I presented a paper based on this research at the Southwest Art History Conference in Taos, NM in the Fall of 2016. My talk was entitled “An Unoriginal View?: The Trial of William Henry Jackson’s “The Palisades, Alpine Pass.”