Did you know that when the girl featured on the front cover of Vampire Weekend’s ‘Contra’ album artwork found out about the illegal use of her 26 year old photo, she sued the band. She found out when her daughter brought home a copy of the album one day.
The cover of “Contra” features a candid polaroid of a girl from 1983. The photo was found by Rostam while searching through photo archives of that year. The striking quality of the image is what attracted Vampire Weekend to it, and which has made it a topic of such focus and discussion. Ezra states that when he first saw the image, he felt he read “some sort of hesitation” in her face, and that the band discussed at length what her possible age or emotional state could be in the photograph, without ever becoming certain of either. Koenig believed that “wrapped up in her expression is this question: ‘How is she feeling?'” and that “maybe she wasn’t even really sure at the time.
In an interview, lead singer Ezra Koenig revealed that the girl pictured on the front cover is “now living in Malibu”. Koenig has confirmed that the picture was taken in 1983 (by photographer Tod Brody) and was chosen as a juxtaposition to the debut album’s cover which, while taken in 2006, looks as if it “inhabits the same world”. Koenig also referred to the girl as “Kirsten” in a post on Twitter. Koenig likens the image to the Rorschach test as multiple meanings can be extrapolated from just a few signifiers, saying, “Some people get very mad when they see a white blonde girl in a Polo shirt.”
On July 15, 2010, Vampire Weekend, along with XL Recordings and Brody, were sued by Ann Kirsten Kennis, the woman who identified herself as the mysterious woman on the cover, for $2 million for using the photo without her permission. Kennis has said that the photo was taken while she was “a high-fashion model under contract with prestigious agencies in New York City.” In addition, Kennis said that the release forms for the photo that was allegedly signed by Kennis herself, were forged. In a statement released by Kennis’ lawyer Alan Neigher, Neigher said that Kennis discovered herself on the cover when her daughter brought home a copy of Contra and showed it to Kennis. Neigher also mentioned that Brody did not take the photo and said that it was taken by Kennis’ mother. Despite this claim, Brody claims that he took the photo and says that he had the photo for 26 years until Vampire Weekend discovered it on his Flickr page and bought it for five thousand dollars. Ms. Kennis’ own former agent, Sue Charney, told Vanity Fair “To me it is very clearly a Polaroid taken at a casting session.” Koenig later responded on the matter and said that “this is the first time any of us have ever been sued, so we’re still learning how it works,” he added, “There’s nothing we can say about it. We’re not trying to be mysterious. I imagine in the next few months there’ll be plenty to talk about. Given it’s our first time, we just want to do it properly.”
On August 15, 2011, it was announced that Kennis had dropped her lawsuit against XL Recordings and Vampire Weekend after they paid Kennis an undisclosed sum. All litigation in the Vampire Weekend case was dismissed by Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank of the United States District Court for the Central District of California on August 12, 2011. There is no further pending litigation between any of the parties.