An Open Letter To Yatri Abundance and Henna Crowns of Courage
Three years ago, I was the photographer for the ArtPrize 9 Crowns of Courage project. My collaborators were henna tattoo artists Amanda Gilbert and Steve Stone, and makeup artists Jessica Renusson and Tara Pennington-Warnes. It was a terrific project and I came to know and love 22 courageous women who are fighting cancer and their worst fears.
A few days ago, I began to get harassing emails from a complete stranger named Yatri Abundance, a man who is apparently the current love interest of Amanda. He self identifies as a "spiritual leader", and he maligned me on my social media accounts, and made reckless, public insinuations about my character and integrity and my business practices.
He demanded answers to my rationale for not sharing the photos with Amanda and Henna Crowns of Courage, and I have never publicly told my version of the story. But, he leaves me no choice. Here is my public response.
An Open Letter To Yatri Abundance
Here’s what you need to know about my reasons for not allowing Henna Crowns of Courage to use the ArtPrize 9 photos.
History - Money Ruins Everything
As the Crowns of Courage project grew in popularity, my relationship with Steve and Amanda became strained; and in the end I was relieved we didn’t win the big cash prize. This project was a lot of work for a lot of people, and no one was in it for a dime… until the end, when Amanda and Steve had visions of turning this into a livelihood and becoming media sensations. I was troubled by their approach and appetite for attention. It was a big wonderful project with a whole team working on it. I made wonderful friendships with some very sick women – relationships that Steve and Amanda tried to poison when our relationship soured. Remember, these are very sick women. During the course of the project, two of them lost their battles with cancer.
Within a few days after the conclusion of ArtPrize, I met with Amanda and presented a legal agreement offering her the domain name and full use of the photos at no charge, under two conditions: 1) she credit me as the photographer, and 2) if she was going to use the photos for fundraising, she would have to become an IRS recognized 501c3 nonprofit organization. Achieving this status is not done instantaneously, so I gave her and her then boyfriend Steve one full year to complete the process. They refused; and to this day I am puzzled why.
As our relationship deteriorated, Amanda and Steve’s behavior became more and more unprofessional, especially on social media. I never responded publicly, and I decided that I didn’t want to have anything to do with their “dream”, and their efforts to use these vulnerable women to fund a livelihood.
I resolved to find a permanent home for the work. Through my personal connections, I approached the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion in Grand Rapids, a world class cancer treatment center here in Grand Rapids. Many of our subjects were – and continue to be – patients at this facility. The LHCP folks loved the idea of displaying the work on a permanent basis, and they chose the center of the lobby in a beautiful sky lit space as the home for Crowns of Courage. Since the 26 individual pieces were to be mounted on an irregular brick wall, myself and another donor hired a professional art installation contractor to build a complicated mounting system that would protect the art and not damage the wall.
In September of 2019, the terrific folks at Lemmen Holton Cancer Pavilion called and told me they no longer wanted to display the art work, and they wanted me to take it down. I’m not quite sure of the details, but they hinted that Amanda had become a distraction and an embarrassment, and that their security staff was to have her arrested for trespassing if she appeared on any Spectrum Health Property.
After the sad task of removing the installation from Lemmen Holton, I thought briefly about finding another location. But I came to realize that another public location would just provide another venue to distract from the original goal of the project. And I realized that a better option would be to give the original artwork to the women featured in each piece. Many of them have collected the pieces; the rest of them are on display in my studio.
Photographs are the property of the photographer. This is established law in the US and virtually the entire free world. After extended discussions with lawyers, Amanda Gilbert voluntarily signed a binding legal document on August 14, 2019 that stated:
2.Gilbert acknowledges that Burgess owns and has exclusive rights in and to the
Burgess Photographs, and that the Burgess Photographs and Burgess Copyright Registration are valid. Gilbert agrees that she will not at any time take any action contesting or impairing, or tending to impair, any part of Burgess' right, title, and interest in and to the Burgess Photographs or the Burgess Copyright Registration.
3. Gilbert acknowledges that she does not have any rights to use the Burgess
Photographs for any purpose and agrees to immediately cease any and all use of the Burgess Photographs, including without limitation, on any and all marketing or promotional materials. Gilbert further agrees that she will not make any future use of the Burgess Photographs for any purpose.
I also agreed to give Amanda & Steve credit when publishing the photographs. This is a moot point since I have no plans to share them publicly for the reasons I’ve outlined.
I am also amused in her continued quest to use these photos, after her friend Steve told a dear friend that “anyone with a camera could take these pictures.” He made this statement right in front of our display during exhibit hours at the DeVos Center. If the photography is insignificant, it should be very easy to find someone to help her continue her effort. I wish her no ill will, but I have no interest in helping her or you.
This project was three years ago. I’m sure what I’ve told you here contradicts her story of selflessness and victimhood. Towards the end of this project, it morphed from a collaboration based on shared vision and mutual respect for each other's talents into an ego project and a fundraising tool for Amanda and Steve. I’m trying to hold onto the good memories, but after three years, it’s over and it's time for everyone to move on.
I wish you and Amanda no ill will, I just want to be left alone and put this project behind me. I suggest you and Amanda do the same.
The accompanying photo to this blog post features model Alexandria Yonkman. Henna tattoos by Amanda Gilbert and Steve Stone, makeup by Jessica Renusson.