Ottawa artist angry over unauthorized use of photo in online gossip rag

Ottawa artist Jonathan Hobin is coming face-to-face with the lawlessness of the web and an international story reviving allegations of sexual misconduct by deceased pop star Michael Jackson.

Jonathan Hobin debunks website's link of his photo to a 2003 raid of Michael Jackson's home

'American Idol' is one of the images placed in a click-bait article by gossip publication Radar Online. (American Idol, Jonathan Hobin)

An Ottawa artist is coming face-to-face with the lawlessness of the web and an international story reviving allegations of sexual misconduct by deceased pop star Michael Jackson.

Jonathan Hobin has gained artistic notoriety for his photo works depicting children acting out disturbing news events and traumatic situations.

Ottawa-based artist Jonathan Hobin is photographed with pieces from his exhibit "In The Playroom" at the Ottawa Art Gallery in Ottawa on Friday, April 19, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang (The Canadian Press)

One image depicts a child resembling Jonbenet Ramsey, the six-year-old girl found murdered in her parents' Boulder, Colorado, home on December 26, 1996.

According to an online article by a celebrity gossip publication called Radar Online, Hobin's image was confiscated by the Santa Barbara sheriff's department in a 2003 search of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch.

"I started to get texts and emails at three in the morning the other day … at first (I was) excited that Michael Jackson was a fan, despite it being part of his (alleged) sex den," Hobin told All In A Day host Alan Neal on Friday.

"In truth I knew right away that actually it debunked the story of the day I guess about Michael Jackson because I knew for a fact that that child potentially was not even born … before the police raid," said Hobin, and that the photo itself was taken in 2008, five years after the raid.

Work 'taken out of context'

Santa Barbara police haven't yet confirmed the claims in the Radar Online article — which was picked up by publications such as Vanity Fair and Britain's Daily Mail Online — and did not immediately return requests for comment by CBC Ottawa.

But a spokesperson for Santa Barbara police is quoted in a Los Angeles Times article saying the Radar Online piece merges aspects of its police report with content from the internet and other sources.

The Twins (Jonathan Hobin)
The whole debacle upsets him, but he isn't surprised, says Hobin, who is creative director for the School of Photographic Arts in Ottawa.

"At first I was just disappointed that the media didn't do their research but then I was also disappointed that my work was taken out of context.

"The whole purpose of the series is to talk about the horrible disturbing things that kids see on a daily basis and then to take it out of context it became one of those images."

Then, there's the association with pornography and child exploitation he finds most egregious.

People are manipulating the context of art for their own sinister purposes.- Artist Jonathan Hobin

"I've had my critics call it that in the past but you have to understand context is everything … If you read it in the context for which it was intended a lot of people consider the work to be powerful and thought provoking."

Wants clarification from police

A lot of the work that they're referencing in the Radar Online report isn't in fact pornography, but images obtained online from art books, according to Hobin.

"People are manipulating the context of art for their own sinister purposes. I think again, it harkens back to poor journalism and the excitement around creating drama that doesn't exist," he said.

A Boo Grave (Jonathan Hobin)

Hobin believes the best way to put an end to the misinformation is for the police department in question to deny the claims.

"(The sheriff's department) could have put out word immediately saying that this is someone's attempt to ... corrupt a previously existing police investigation," he said.

"I'd like them to speak to it sooner rather  than later … everyone from Vanity Fair to Daily Mail to wherever, they're talking about this thing that supposedly exists and to some extent I question if there is some sort of intention of them to allow that discussion to continue when they can put a stop to it right now."