Thursday, April 9, 2009

From the Archives | Maine loon plate and my father's photo

loonplatepost copy
Image of the Maine loon vanity license plate (left) and Fred Knapp's photo of a loon and a chick (right). Do they look at all alike?

ArchivesThe most popular vanity license plate in Maine features the common loon, a creature that graces the state's many lakes. But when the plate was unveiled in 1993, it looked oddly familiar.

My father, a wildlife photographer in Princeton, Maine, spent hours in a floating blind made of sticks, mud and an inner tube to catch a loon and its chick in an interesting pose. At the end of his photographic excursion, bloodsuckers covered his legs, but he scored the shot he was seeking.

Ten years after the license plate was released with its image closely resembling my father's photograph, I sent a letter to Maine's Democratic governor, John Baldacci. I was a freshman in journalism school, and I had a greater knowledge of copyright law. For once, I wanted answers. Here are a few excepts from the letter:
Probably the most recognizable of all of Fred Knapp’s pictures is one taken of a loon and its chick on Grand Falls Flowage in Princeton, Maine, in 1979. The adult loon was captured in an extremely unique pose that is rarely caught on film. The most distinct feature of the photograph is how the loon’s tail forms a point. ... The loon’s head is also turned toward its tail with its beak stretching over a good length of its body.
Though the pose I just described is rare, it has been featured on the Maine loon conservation license plate since 1993. When the two loon illustrations are placed side by side, the resemblance is striking. ...
My father has worked long and hard to establish a reputable business known for unique works of art. Oftentimes throughout his career, his work has been utilized for the profit of others without giving its creator the proper credit. Each time this happens, I feel the uniqueness of his work is being stripped from him.


In the letter, I explained that the state had used my father's work for other purposes, such as the promotion of the Maine Nongame Wildlife Fund. For that, permission was given. At the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, I noticed that my father's photo was featured on a poster for the conservation fund, beside a poster for the loon license plate (above). My letter continued:
This clearly indicates to me that the photographs on the poster and the license plate are one in the same. ...
My father is a very humble man who likes to keep to himself and make a living in a peaceful and honest manner. However, I could not let this situation remain concealed any longer.
We received a written response directly from the governor, who said he was forwarding my letter to Dan Gwadosky, the secretary of state who leads the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. We heard little after that. Maybe the current secretary - Matt Dunlap, whom I got to know later in my college career - could get to the bottom of this.

But now, I feel it is time to share this with Web audiences. At this point, there is little opportunity for financial recompense. I simply want the state to give credit where credit is due.

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