Saturday, April 30, 2011


Art inspires artist. Countless works of art that we laud over draw inspiration from a piece or a body of work that preceded it. We talk about people who are disciples or students of a particular master artist and how their work is influenced by them. On a smaller scale, artist draw inspiration from other's work even if it isn't a master/student relationship. Sometimes you see a treatment of a particular subject and you then want to put your own spin on it.

Photography is no exception to this phenomenon. There are people who try to recreate Ansel Adams shots and perfect his Zone System, for example. I bring all this up because recently a friend showed me an engagement shoot for a friend of hers and the photographer used a very interesting prop. I commented that I liked the idea and then bemused the fact the I couldn't now use that prop myself. She wondered why and I said that I felt it was photographic plagiarism. I think that when you take another photographer's creative idea and use it as your own, it's bad form. But am I right to think that? I read countless photo magazines and see techniques that I would like to try. Sometimes I will see a creative shot and try to recreate it to get the technique down. However, learning new techniques is different to me than copying a creative rendition. It's the difference between learning HOW to shoot a bride or a child in a particular light and trying to exactly recreate another fellow artist's composition.

This for me becomes complicated when a CLIENT sees a pictures and wants to recreate the same thing. Should I tell the client no, that's not MY idea so I can't use it? Should I be crediting the original photographer for the idea somehow in my photograph? Do I even have bother with all of that? I wonder how I would feel if I did something creative, posted it on my website, and then saw a replica of it in a magazine the next month. Would I feel flattered or robbed? I honestly don't know and therefor I don't know how the photographer that I'd be borrowing creativity from would feel either! Unfortunately, this happens more often than not. I guess I'll have to keep playing by ear and hope I don't ever piss someone off...or vice versa!!!!

Still staying in focus...see you in the next frame.


LeonX said...

"Bad artists copy. Good artists steal." --Pablo Picasso

Hayden said...

I am amazed the you had a Picasso quote ready to go, my well read Brother! But that is an interesting take on it!

Hayden said...

Here is what a Yahoo Answers poster had to say about that:

His "bad artist" tries to reproduce an existing work, concentrating on the composition, technique, and palette of the earlier artist, letting the inevitable variations in ability chowcase the differences. The overall effect is "See how close I can come to Rembrandt's technique!".

His "great artist" doesn't worry about the technical trifles -- he's already mastered the ones he uses, and ignores the others. He lifts the existing work as a quotation, and incorporates it into a different vision, using the earlier work as nothing more than a recognizable element of an independent artistic expression.

LeonX said...

That's pretty much the idea. It's like in music. There are only 12 notes you can play. No one has invented any new ones, so you use them in your own context. It's the difference between playing Coltrane's solo from "Giant Steps" note for note and playing a solo within the confines of the piece.

Surreal Life Imagery said...

Interesting. While I believe that plagiarism is wrong, I also believe that mimmicry is how we all learn. Perhaps the true issue here is knowing the difference between the two. I believe that plagiarism implies the intent to steal or discredit an original work. Mimmicry, while still a copy, seems to lend itself more to appreciation.

Many of us have had the opportunity to view a photo of a bride and groom cutting a wedding cake. Thousands of photographers take this shot every year. Is this plagiarism? The HDR treatment popularized by the Twilight saga can now be seen applied to thousands of photos. Is this plagiarism?

Let's take it a step further. Did Wrangler plagiarize Levi Jeans?

Derek Blanks may have popularized alter-ego photos, but the concept actually existed prior to his birth.

Food for thought.

Hayden said...

I'm glad you brought up the alter ego photos because that's a really good example. Let's say Blanks DID come up with the idea/concept. If I decide that I want to try that and then have my own shoot on my site, do I then say somewhere "concept by d. Blanks"? It's a slippery road I think. I saw someone use scrabble pieces in an engagement shoot and I thought of a bunch of other ways IN ADDITION to what I saw him/her do. When you put your stuff out there (mag, web, gallery) is it now free game for others to use? Honestly, if someone started using my idea and then it caught on, I'd love for people to start calling it the Greene Method or the Greene Style!

But do other photogs feel the same way, I wonder???

Surreal Life Imagery said...

I truly feel that the idea of owning photographic 'methodology' is subjective. I also think that there is a difference between those who fancy themselves photographers and those who consider themselves to be artists. The answer will always lie with the person with whom you're conversing at the time.

I think that the mimmicry of a photograph is acceptable, hence, there are MILLIONS of people using Rembrandt lighting, using the same pose. Perhaps it could be a different scenario if I drove to the same location, used the same wardrobe choices, same makeup, same pose and so on...

There are no patents on poses, scenery, lighting and background.

I love Derek Blanks' work. Mimicking his work/Using his work as inspiration may prove to be a great learning tool...but I have taken nothing from him.

Anonymous said...

when i was in photo school, we had an assignment where we had to pick a photographer and recreate some of their photos.

so i dont see anything wrong with mimicking an idea/image. but you have to alter that idea and make it your own..

CASE in point: iPad, samsung tab, blackberry playbook, and the list goes on...