The photographer Ryan McGinley was in a business meeting a few months ago when, during a break, a young assistant entered the room carrying a laptop. “Guys, check this out,” he told the artist and assembled colleagues. “This is the person that’s suing you.”
Janine “Jah Jah” Gordon, 38, the blonde, pouty-lipped artist who in March slapped Mr. McGinley with a hefty copyright infringement suit boasting some 150 images as evidence, did not appear in the video. It was simply a series of slides with Ms. Gordon’s Brooklyn accented voice layered over them.
“Now, I spent years in the darkroom making lithos, photo lithos, photo silkscreen and photographs doing every kind of printing imaginable,” her voice continues to rise, bumping against the limits of the microphone, as dark room equipment appears onscreen. “And if you take those same procedures and you put ’em up in the freakin’ sky and you put up a satellite, and you add some mirrors, and you beam some energy, and you have the lights off, and booyakasha”—here a picture of Nicola Tesla gives way to an image of an intricate crop circle-—“don’t tell me that can’t happen on a large scale!”
Near the end of the video—“Jah Jah Exposes the Crop Circle Hoax”—Ms. Gordon credits her crop circle theory to the Ben Affleck movie Paycheck, which apparently gave her the idea for the concept of compound mirrors in a satellite. Around the conference table, reactions to the video varied. Some laughed—Mr. McGinley didn’t.
Given the sweeping breadth of Ms. Gordon’s claims, and the vast scope of her lawsuit, her evidence can seem curiously specific. She will circle a hand gesture, forcing a viewer to consider if M.I.A. is really soaring through the air in that unique a way, in the corresponding photo by Mr. McGinley. In one, she superimposes a peacock head onto a shot of naked breasts to show how, despite the fact that there is no peacock in her photograph, the images would be fairly similar if there were. In her 50-page complaint, she demands $30,000 for each alleged copyright violation.
She’s also cast a wide net in the people she’s sued, ensnaring galleries that have shown and sold Mr. McGinley’s works—among them New York’s Team Gallery and San Francisco’s Ratio 3, along with their proprietors—as well as the Levi’s Jeans Company, which used Mr. McGinley for its “Oh Pioneers!” ad campaign in 2009.
There’s an element of David and Goliath here, said Dan Cameron, the former New Museum curator who is one of the people who filed an affidavit of support for Ms. Gordon’s cause. After consulting friends for legal advice, Mr. Cameron decided that he couldn’t, in good conscience, allow Mr. McGinley to continue to lift his “visual vocabulary” from Ms. Gordon.
“The minute Ryan McGinley appeared on the scene, I thought, ‘Well this is a very interesting hodgepodge of what other artists are doing,’” Mr. Cameron told The Observer.
“Somebody has to defend the underdog when something like this has happened, and keeps happening,” he added.
Though Ms. Gordon has several other affidavits of support in the case paperwork, her outside supporters are difficult to find. According to her complaint, the apparent similarities between her photographs and Mr. McGinley’s were first pointed out to her by Robert Grossman of Mitchell-Innes and Nash, a gallery that she claims as her own in the complaint, though Mr. Grossman described their relationship as more personal than professional.
“Oy gevalt,” he said when The Observer told him of his role in the complaint and said he had to get off the phone because “it sounds like I should call her.” Subsequent calls to the gallery were not returned.