Vampire Weekend’s Contra Cover Girl Talks Lawsuit

Former model and photographer go back and forth in new Vanity Fair over album art.

In a new Vanity Fair story, both sides in the ongoing Vampire Weekend Contra cover-girl lawsuit — that would be former model Ann Kirsten Kennis and photographer Tod Brody — sound off. (VW refused to comment.) And judging from what they have to say, this thing isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon.

At the heart of the suit (which Kennis’ lawyer, Alan Neigher, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court back in July) is a single Polaroid of the towheaded model taken in 1983 and whether Vampire Weekend, XL Recordings or Brody ever attained Kennis’ permission to use it on the now-famous cover of VW’s Contra album. The band, the label and the photographer all insist they followed the appropriate steps — even getting a signed release from Kennis — while she claims she was unaware that her image was being used by the band and any release is certainly a forgery.

“It felt like someone was exploiting me,” Kennis told VF. “Who do these people think they are that they can just take my picture from God only knows where and plaster it everywhere?”

In her lawsuit, Kennis claims that Vampire Weekend purchased the photograph of her for $5,000 from Brody, who claims he took the picture in the summer of 1983 during a casting session for a television commercial. (Over the course of her career, Kennis appeared in print and TV ads for companies like L’Oreal, Revlon and Jordache, to name just a few.) But Kennis disputes that assertion and says Brody didn’t shoot the Polaroid — she thinks her mother might have.

“It’s not even like it’s a Polaroid before a photo shoot, because the hair’s not done, the makeup’s not done, the lighting’s not done. Nothing. It almost looks like somebody caught me by surprise,” she said. “The other thing that’s strange about this photo is that it’s not taken [in front of a] seamless [backdrop] like it would be in a photographer’s studio. You can see a doorframe there and hinges right in the background.”

Brody, not surprisingly, disagrees, telling VF that there were “probably a dozen people in the room” when the Polaroid was taken, among them representatives for the ad agency and the commercial’s director.

“We probably saw 20 or 30 [models] that day,” he said. “I don’t think I held on to any of the other [Polaroids] from that day. I wish I had, frankly, because they all would have been taken up against the same wall.”

Brody’s claim is backed up by Kennis’ former agent, Sue Charney, who said: “To me, it is very clearly a Polaroid taken at a casting session.”

Brody adds that he kept the photo of Kennis because he “thought it was a cool photo” and that it had been tacked onto a wall in his studio, along with “hundreds of Polaroids.” But he wouldn’t comment on the contested photographic release form or how the photo ended up in Vampire Weekend’s possession, saying, “I’m not going to address the merits of her case or anything else … we will try that in court, not in Vanity Fair or in the media.”

Kennis’ suit was filed in California, one of the 28 states in the U.S. that honors the right of publicity, which makes the release form all-important. If it is found to be authentic by a judge, Kennis will likely have no legal claim. But if a judge decides the release is fake, she may have a very strong claim to misappropriation of identity, and therefore could be entitled to millions. In a 2005 California case, a jury awarded ex-model Russell Christoff $15.6 million after concluding that an unauthorized image of his face accounted for 5 percent of sales of Taster’s Choice coffee.

What do you think about the suit against Vampire Weekend? Share your thoughts in the comments!