Cover of Vampire Weekend’s Contra. At issue, who took the photo and the image rights of the model

Controversy deepens in row over sleeve image on Vampire Weekend’s Contra


The lawyers representing Tod Brody, the photographer at the heart of the Vampire Weekend image rights battle have asked to quit the case. PDN report that there has been a breakdown in communications between the firm and the photographer at the centre of the storm. At issue is the image of a girl (a Polaroid shot in 1983) used on Vampire Weekend’s 2010 album release Contra, and whether there was a model release which allowed the image to be used. The model concerned is Ann Kristen Kennis. Just to recap a complicated story, here’s a brief timeline:


1. The “mystery girl” became the subject of attention in September 2009 when the album artwork was released, with excited speculation by fans over who this girl was, over her ‘look’, her stare, the ‘preppy’ characteristics that define the band’s style and wind-up those expecting a more conventional ‘indie’ take. In an interview with MTV’s James Montgomery in January 2010, Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig explained:


“People have said it was ‘haunting,’” Koenig said of the cover. “I had one person tell me it was ‘porn-y.’ We’ve had a lot of people ask us if it was sponsored by Polo or something. It’s almost like a Rorschach test, because some people get very mad when they see a white blond girl in a Polo shirt. It makes you realize how much you can imagine about somebody when you know nothing about them, based on only a few signifiers.”


2. Then in July 2010 Entertainment Weekly reported that former model Ann Kirsten Kennis was the girl in the image and was suing the band for $2 million. Kennis’ lawyer, Alan Neigher, said that Kennis’ mother an avid Polaroid user, took the shot and that it ended up in charity shop, like a found photo. But Neigher later told EW that it was just speculation, “we have no idea who took the picture.” Photographer Tod Brody told EW he took the photo in 1983. The photo was in my possession the entire time, for 26 years, until it was delivered to Vampire Weekend.”


3. In August 2010 Vanity Fair ran a profile of Kennis a model whose image appeared on brands from L’Oreal and Revlon, to Cuervo and Vaseline. VF report that some music business insiders suggested that Kennis had missed a trick in not exploiting her new-found status as “the mystery-girl” of indie rock. But after initially feeling flattered Kennis thought, “It felt like someone was exploiting me,” Kennis says. “Who do these people think they are that they can just take my picture from god only knows where and plaster it everywhere?”


4. In the same VF feature, photographer Tod Brody says he took the photo in a casting session for a TV commercial. Out of many Polaroid shots of the 20 or  30 models that day Brody kept the Kennis image because he liked it. “Just like Vampire Weekend thought it was a cool photo, I thought it was a cool photo.”


Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, the quality of the idea and art direction of this sleeve are undeniable. However, legally, where this case heads next is as clear as a wet Polaroid.


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