The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Debi Gliori, Tobermory, Cats, Controversy and Photography

Debi Gliori is a children’s author and illustrator with at least 75 published books to her name, the latest of which is called The Tobermory Cat, loosely based on a stray ginger tom that was well known about the town of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, off the West coast of Scotland.

As something of a local celebrity, the cat was even given a Facebook page by a local artist, Angus Stewart, who photographed the cat, made up wee stories about him and posted them online.

Debi’s publisher became aware of the cat on one of his many trips to the island while in conversation with a local bookstore owner and thought it might make a lovely children’s story and approached Debi to create one.

What should have been a delightful project, which might have boosted positive publicity for the Tobermory, Debi, the cat and Angus, all turned sour when Angus accused Debi of stealing his idea and started a campaign against her, the publisher and the book. And as word spread from this one-sided perspective, some Internet trolls fuelled by a sense of righteous indignation, or just plain malice, got rather nasty – initiating cyber attacks, phone calls, insults and threats. You can read Debi’s own account of events on her blog - The Tobermory Cat, the trolls and me.

I found out about all this when I was at the Wigtown Book Festival a few weeks back (see - Return to Wigtown Book Festival) with a new project to photograph authors as literary characters. The Festival organisers had put out feelers to the authors attending to see who might be up for getting involved, and Debi was one of about a dozen who responded.

Debi decided she’d choose the character of The Cat and the Fiddle from the nursery rhyme, as not only did it fit in nicely with part of the story from her new book, but she also plays the fiddle herself.

The Festival had provided me with an empty shop I could use as a studio, so we fixed a time in the evening when it would be dark outside and I could control the lighting.

I set up a single light to cast a strong shadow and I photographed Debi sitting on a stool reading the book. We then removed the stool and book, fitted a little band with cat ears on it to her head and she took up a stance with her violin to create the shadow we wanted to use. Working collaboratively is part of what I love about creating images via the camera, and Debi was a delight to work with – interested, involved and contributing ideas all the way.

Then it was down to some serious editing in Photoshop to merge the two images and add a tail.

This was the final result:

Debi Gliori, The Cat and The Fiddle

Thanks also have to go to Renita Boyle for all her help and support.

I’ll be posting more photos from the series of authors as literary characters over the coming weeks – stay tuned...


angryparsnip said...

I think that has to be my favorite photo of yours ever !

As for Angus unless the cat was his... he doesn't really have any claim.
It seems like even Scotland is not immune to the call of suing everyone and anyone, like we have in America.

Now off to look at her blog.

cheers, parsnip

hope said...

You are truly a magician of magical images!

Kim Ayres said...

Parsnip - There is no copyright on titles or ideas. The silly thing is, anyone who knows anything about creativity also knows ideas are not the problem - ideas are all around us all the time. The difference with the creative person is what they DO with the idea - the time, effort and energy they put into their creativity. Consider the teacher who gives the pupils a title to write an essay - each kid comes up with a different story. The only time it's an issue is if someone copies someone else's story word for word. Another example is there are 34 different movies or TV series with the title "The Awakening", but they are not all remakes of the same film :)

Hope - thank you for your kind words :)

Hindsfeet said...

now *that*, my friend, is *brilliant*!!

Kim Ayres said...

Thank you Liz :)

Guyana-Gyal said...

That is one coooool cat photo, Kim!

At first, I misread what you'd written and I thought that the publisher had gotten the idea for the book from the chap's facebook pictures and stories.

But now I see that the publisher had gotten the idea from one of the locals.

There's no copyright on a cat that everybody knows.

Come to think of it, even I'd written a roaming cat story for a pre-teen Moscow girl I used to tutor when she was living here.

Pat said...

I have no truck with trolls of any kind. Spoilers all.
However a tiny part of me feels for Angus - I can understand his disappointment - but then one has to get over it move on.

Pat said...

I still don't understand how you did the photo but it is very effective.

Kim Ayres said...

GG - I think if it had been his own cat, it might have made a bit of difference, otherwise it's like 2 different people writing stories about a particular landmark.

Pat - I can see where he was coming from, even if I disagree with him. Personally I think he missed a real opportunity when the publisher said he'd advertise Angus's work on the back of the book.

As for the photo - it's a combination of 2 images - Debi sitting down, and the shadow of Debi standing up playing the fiddle :)

Guyana-Gyal said...

Why didn't Angus publish his book too? He has PHOTOS of the real cat. And his own stories.

Kim Ayres said...

He has -

LegalMist said...


Kim Ayres said...

Legalmist - thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Angus said...

While appreciating you may wishing to remain neutral, I am surprised that you undermine the use of photography in creative works. I have been a professional artist for some 35 years, producing paintings, films and works using photographs. In Feb 2011 I created a fictional story about a celebrity cat which I decided to name "Tobermory Cat". That name was not widely (if every) heard prior to my work in Tobermory but became widely know due to my creative work. The cats seen in my photographs / work did not create my story which exploits and explores celebrity and fame. The cats did not produce and promote the work on the facebook page, post on twitter or produce the merchandise or book. Please do not think less of me because I did not draw pictures of my famous Tobermory Cat ( though I have skill enough to do so if I wished).
I am a little surprised that you do not appear to recognise the photographers work as equal to that of an illustrator. Your skills are obvious. My talents are slight in comparison. I set out to produce mere paparazzi cat snaps, photoshopping cats into pictures to progress the story, constantly removing large black marks from the mouth of one of the three cats I used, writing the tabloid spin narrative - but lets not talk of creative process - its only photography, the base raw material for others to exploit.

Kim Ayres said...

Hi Angus,

Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog.

I'm not sure quite how I "undermine the use of photography in creative works", nor that I "do not appear to recognise the photographers work as equal to that of an illustrator". If you explore my blog and/or my website, you will find I see photography as much a valid art form as any other.

I don't deny your right to your use of the Tobermory Cat - indeed, I think it's creative and fun.

However, I don't deny Debi Gliori's right to it either. If you read the comments above, you will see my view on this, which can be reflected in my comment "there are 34 different movies or TV series with the title 'The Awakening', but they are not all remakes of the same film."

2 different people can take the same title, idea or concept and then produce different artistic works. This happens all the time. If Debi had copied your words and photos and tried to pass them off as her own, then you would have every right to seek redress for copyright infringement, but she did not do that.

However I will admit:

a) I am not a lawyer - these are my own opinions
b) I don't expect for a single moment to change your mind - I'm sure the points I make you will have heard elsewhere, and if you disagreed with them then, you are unlikely to suddenly agree with them now.

I am happy to leave your comment here on my blog to add to the richness of the debate for anyone reading this post at a later date.

Wishing you well.


Angus said...

I have no wish to re-visit the hurt personalities in this matter, my interest is in the principal and status of creative works using photography. Had I authored and illustrated my story / work using pen & ink drawings of the cat I created, I believe a publisher would have treated my work differently. Had I drawn my work I believe an illustrator would also have been uneasy stating that she had been directed to my work taken the fictional character at the centre of my work together with the unusual celebrity ideas; a cat promoting Tobermory and Mull. Even though it might seem cleaver hijacking both the work and the goodwill a self publisher was responsible for having created, I doubt an illustrator would be comfortable doing so with a drawn work. To do so would be unnecessary. Other names exist and I offered my ideas freely when Ms Gliori visited to discuss my work in 2011.

Imagine a publisher declared that the shadow seen in your photograph of Ms Gloiri was due to luck rather than as a result of your design. Similarly a publisher may wishfully claimed that a cat known as Ledaig or Browns Cat was famous and known as Tobermory Cat prior to my work. Back to the status of photograph, if I use photographs to illustrate my fictional work the cat is responsible for my work. When an illustrator creates the work the illustrator is responsible for the work. Thanks for your opinion, that is mine.

On a closing note, your photographs are very creative, good luck in the future.

Kim Ayres said...

Angus - as a creative photographer, I don't value pen & ink illustration above photography - it is a different medium, not better or worse. Within any medium there are good and bad creations and all the shades in between, but that's a different issue.

I think you are right - if you had done drawings rather than photography, then an illustrator probably would have thought twice about doing something similar. But using a different medium does change things.

A sculptor could come along and create a bronze structure of Tobermory Cat, or a musician might write a song about it. If these things happened, I would champion the right of these artists too, and disagree if you and Debi decided to pursue them in the courts - unless the words of the song, or the visual style of the sculpture were lifted directly from yours or Debi's writings, drawings or photos without permission.

In brief, as I see it, direct reproduction by someone else is wrong, but a different interpretation of an idea or concept is fine.

So with the difference in medium, I see even less of a problem.

I don't see it as placing illustration above photography (or digital collage) any more than I would place ceramics above oil paints

Angus said...

While you suggest you do not value pen and colour above photography you then suggest the illustrator may have thought twice about their actions if the work were drawn rather than photographic. This suggests you consent to a hierarchy of mediums, photography being trumped by drawing.

You then state that you felt it would be fine for someone to producing a sculpture of Tobermory Cat ( rather than a sculpture of a cat ) presumably without seeking the creator of that works permission. Rogers v. Koons comes to mind. I am sure that you already know of Koons, he is an extremely commercial sculptor. He profited by exploiting a photographers work, transformed that photographs piece into a sculpture. It seems sculptor Jeff Koons tried to claim fair use, describing his sculpture as a parody of the (somewhat unknown ) photographers work. I believe the court decided Koons should pay the photographer in that legal dispute. How such a legal case would turn out in the UK, I do not know.

The law is practically useless for most artists. It is too expensive, complicated and counter intuitive. Ideas are apparently three a penny so it does not seem too much to ask that “creative artists” be allowed to create and promote their own work independently of another artists efforts, thereby allowing both the space to thrive on their merits. If that creativity courtesy is brazenly ignored, I hope photographers have the balls to stand up for their work rather than accept their work has less creative standing than a drawing.

Kim Ayres said...

Angus - sorry - I still don't understand your interpretation of my words as setting drawing above photography - I have said it is different, not better or worse.

I agreed an illustrator might have thought twice if someone had already done illustrations. But I would also expect a potter to think twice if someone had already done pots on the same subject.

The Rogers Vs Koons thing is different because the art being produced was taken directly from the art already there. If I created a sculpture using the same design as Debi's drawings, or based specifically on your photoshop creations, then that would be wrong. But if I created a sculpture of a cat not based on her designs or your photos, then no problem.

If Tobermory cat was entirely your creation, and Debi had based her illustrations and designs on your photos of your cat, then you would have a case. But the cat was about before you set up your Facebook page and artistic creations, and her illustrations and stories are different.

Let's say I built a distinctive boat, put it in the harbour and called it the Tobermory boat and wrote stories about it. Then, if someone else came along made illustrations of it and sold stories about it without my consent, then they would be in the wrong.

But if I didn't build the boat, but saw one in the harbour that already existed and was well known locally - and made up stories about it, I wouldn't have any claim if someone else did the same - unless they took my stories with my words and claimed them as their own.

This has nothing whatsoever with creating a hierarchy of one medium over another

Angus said...

"The Rogers Vs Koons thing is different because the art being produced was taken directly from the art already there." It seems you do not believe the art being produced / illustrated was not taken directly from the photographic art already there. You do not recognise my photographic construct, narrative or art. Crushed. Pointless. I should have drawn my work.

Kim Ayres said...

Angus - again you are misinterpreting what I'm saying. You are confusing the general with the specific. If Debi had created illustrations using your photos as source material - copying them directly - or she had taken your exact words and put them into her stories - then you would have a case against her. But she did not.

If you took one of my photos, reproduced it exactly, then claimed originality, then I would have a case against you. But if you were inspired by the themes of one of my photographs to create your own work - or more specifically inspired by the same idea that had inspired mine, then I would have no case against you.

If we both saw a dog with 3 legs and decided to photograph it and write stories about it, then so long as our photos were our own and our words were our own, then neither could claim anything against the other.

Even if I had pointed out the 3 legged dog to you, I would have no claim against you unless you tried to use my photographs and/or my words.

Again this has nothing to do with hierarchy of photographic constructs over, or under, drawings.

Angus said...

In a work produced by an illustrator who has been directed to an existing photographic fictional work, an illustrator who took the name of that existing work, be considered a work of fan fiction or a derivative work? Why would that illustrator also refuse to take any other name than the already promoted name of a work seen on facebook by several million viewers?

Angus said...

I accept that a drawing will never be a direct copy of a photographic work but lets not give special rights to illustrators. It seems you suggest it would be acceptable for an illustrator to produce a draw work based on films such as James Bond the secret agent or Harry Potter, produce their own story - every word, then title their work James Bond or Harry Potter so as to exploit the public awareness of those existing works. I have to say I find that problematic.

Kim Ayres said...

Angus - what on earth are you talking about saying I'm giving special rights to illustrators? Have you not actually read a word I've said? I'm beginning to think you are copying and pasting responses from a different debate!

The simple fact is, the Tobermory cat existed before you started taking photos and writing stories.

This isn't like James Bond or Harry Potter, this is more like Robin Hood or King Arthur - a character that already existed and anyone is free to make their interpretations about.

I absolutely respect your right to create photos and stories from the idea of the Tobermory cat. But I also respect anyone else's right to do so for all the reasons I've outlined above.

As I said at the start of this, I don't expect to convince you to change your mind, but you have not given me any reason to change mine.

I am expressing my opinions backed by what I believe to be sound argument.

I am not a lawyer. But this blog is a place for me to express my creativity and my opinions. I am completely free to delete all your comments if I wish.

I would prefer not to do that as I think the discussion is worth being here for the interest of anyone else reading this blog. But do understand - you are entering my space here and I'm started to get a little irritated at you accusing me of stuff which - it would be absolutely clear if you had read my earlier responses - is complete bollocks.

You also need to understand I do not speak for Debi. I have met her in person once - when I took the photo in this blog post. She struck me as a pleasant, creative person with integrity.

I am not her best buddy nor her personal adviser. I don't know why you seem so obsessed with convincing me you are right. It wouldn't make a scrap of different to the world.

I will say it once more for absolute clarity.
1. - I do not give special rights for one art form over another
2. - because the Tobermory Cat existed before you started writing stories and creating photos, in my opinion, you do not have the right to exclusivity.

Now, if you insist on attacking me on my own blog, I will start deleting your comments as there is nothing further to be gained by responding to you.

Angus said...

Cats clearly do exist, but Mr Andrew makes specific claims that a cat widely known by the nomenclature “ Tobermory Cat” existed prior to my work – consequently reducing my creative work to reportage of a famous celebrity tourist promoting cat with the unusual nomenclature “Tobermory Cat”; fair game it seems for others to use as source material.

Mr Andrew direct Ms Gliori to my work. For what purpose did he direct her to my work when a cat is not Tobermory Cat, Tobermory Cat existed in my fictional creative work?

So, if I am wrong, a cat with the widely used nomenclature “Tobermory Cat” existed prior to my work and my work was not the sole reason for the names uptake and adoption,I will gladly offer you a full apology and a case of Champaign.

Angus said...

The question now is, do you stand by your facts having found no sign of the famous Tobermory Cat on the web prior Feb 2011; the start of my work?

If you are told a bogus line of facts during a troll fuelled book launch, a bogus fact attack which deprive a photographer of his work, would you keep your head down or adjust your opinion when the facts are contradicted?

Angus said...

I am surprised that this dog owning day tripper from Edinburgh, a busy publisher, manage to stand up and convince so many people that he is a reliable source of historic cat nomenclature facts in Tobermory. At best his facts must be hearsay - at worse they were invented.

Picture the spectacle, it's laugh out loud ridiculous. Mastermind - cat names in Tobermory 2009 - 2015

Kim Ayres said...

Angus - are you telling me a Tobermory Cat did not exist before you started writing and posting pictures about him? That he is entirely and exclusively your own original creation? That before you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) there was no stray ginger cat wandering the streets of Tobermory?

But, hey, what difference does it make here? This blog post is nearly 2 and a half years old. As far as I'm aware, you are the only one visiting, reading and commenting on it.

I have no idea why you appear to be on a crusade to convert me when I have already pointed out I have only met Debi once in person and I do not speak for her.

As has been said several times already, I don't expect you to change your mind, but you have said nothing to change mine either.

I do not deny you your right to be creative with the idea and memory of a ginger cat on Mull.

I have no idea why you keep posting here.

And I see no reason why I should put any more time and energy into responding to you. I have a life that does not revolve around cats on islands. This is so far down my priority list it barely registers.

So, best of fortune to you but please, get on with your own life and stop interfering with mine as I have no intention of photographing any ginger toms called Tobermory

Angus said...

Thought I would give a photographer some truth. Stick with the Edinburgh bullshit if that's what you want.

Angus said...

Bullshit mismatch.

29th Sept 2012; Herald Newspaper. The famous Tobermory Cat is killed;

5th November 2012 ; BBC news; The famous Tobermory Cat is alive again!

Here-say should not be reported as fact when better sources of fact are available.

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