When does imitation become plagiarism?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Eric Rose, Mar 29, 2005.

  1. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    It's a common thing for beginning artists to try and learn from those more accomplished by imitating their work. Some of it might even be hero worship.

    I have no problem with people trying to learn from others as far as technique, composition etc are concerned. However I do get a bit miffed when I see people continuing to copy the themes, styles, and work of others long after they have mastered the mechanics of the craft.

    Is it because they have no real "vision" themselves? Artists like Kenna, Weston, Barnbaum, HCB and others have recognizable styles. They developed their style as a means to transmit their message to viewers of their art. For the most part they did this independantly from others and it is for this reason that they are associated with certain styles of photography. Some of these artists I consider guiding lights, but I have long abandoned trying to clone them.

    It seems that after a new photo magazine is published we see a rash of "me too" photos by repeat offenders. Are these people devoid of any original feelings or interpretations of their world?

    Do they have the right to say "hey look at my art" or should their only claim be "see I can reproduce that guys (gals) ideas really well"?

    I am not talking about people shooting the same or similar subject matter but in a different way. I am refering to photographers who try the best they can to reproduce the feel, look and mood of anothers work. In my mind this is intellectual plagiarism.

    I welcome your comments and discussion.
     
  2. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    In my 30 years of photography, I have seen very, very few originals and I include myself in that group. I began, as a person who loved faces and wanted to be able to capture them in the manner I saw in magazines. Therefore I copied everything I saw and tried to master the technique. I took dozens of seminars and workshop and accumulated all the styles I could until I developed a sort of "style" of my own.

    I believe that most photographer do the same thing. What you are seeing and commenting on is just perhaps people like me, who are now still in the copying stage of their craft.

    As for the "masters" you mentioned perhaps they did the same thing early on and what you now admire is their later developed style.

    Michael
     
  3. haris

    haris Guest

    Please, correct me if I am wrong, but, as I rememeber, once was situation when two persons, from diffenrent places on Earth, got Nobel price for same discovery, and they didn't hear one for another, and those discoveries are published at almost same time...

    I often think about this Eric, and take music as example. To simplify, piano has 88 keys. In history of music, almost every possibile combination of those 88 keys, and tones those keys can produce are already played by someone. There is almost nothing new to play. OK, please take this with big reserve, this is greatly simplifyed statement. Photography is 200 years old, and hardly can be done something someone didn't already did (Ufff, this sounds strange, please forgive me, English is not my native language)...
     
  4. fingel

    fingel Member

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    I don't know if I agree, if I get what you are saying it sounds like it is alright to copy subject matter, but not ok to use techniques that the "greats" used. So going with that line of thinking then, if I go out on the street and shoot a scene with a Leica and then selectively bleach a portion of the print I am in effect knocking off HCB and Barnbaum. :smile:
     
  5. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    I'm not sure there is a definite line between immitation and plagiarism. It might be more like a graduated mental density filter. :wink:

    While I tend to agree with Michael Blansky's thoughts about how most of us learn photography, I also believe that is a function of most educational processes. For example, would a mathematician be considered innovative if he/she said 2 + 2 = 5? Art itself could easily be considered both immitative and plagiaristic. Art is either immitating life (or sometimes other art that immitated life) or stealing elements of life and nature to express an idea or emotion.
     
  6. 127

    127 Member

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    The line is very clear, and very simple - if it's credited and acknowledged then it's imitation. If it's denied, hidden, or simply not mentioned then it's plagiarism.

    That would apply whether it's the total reconstruction of a shot, applying a technique or even just a broad influence.

    Students oftern think they need to be "totally original", but actually just end up trying to hide their sources. The more mature will recognise that their starting point was where someone else finished, and use that material to allow them to explore further - benefiting both the originator of the source material (who gains recognition), and the new reworking.

    Ian
     
  7. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    Please read what I am saying. If I saw a Keena photo I really liked and went out and did my best to copy it (or maybe just changed it a little bit), this after I have mastered the technical aspect of the craft, is that plagiarism?

    This is the only question I am posing.

    When I was down at Coos Bay in September there was one particular rock I wanted to shoot. It had been done by both Don Kirby and MA Smith, and I'm sure others, but these are the two I am familiar with. I shot it, but printed it entirely differently than the other two. I used my skills to intepret it my way, not Kirby's or MAS's way. But to give recognition where it's due, I call this print Kirby's Rock. I did it for myself and will not sell it, even though it is quite different from Don's. I have others from that series that are original and I will sell those.
     
  8. Digidurst

    Digidurst Subscriber

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    Interesting topic and one that I'm sure will be debated quite a bit. As has often been pointed out, there isn't anything that hasn't been photographed before. I think if you take two photographers and they set up to shoot the same subject, the results will be similar but there will also be differences. For example, I am inspired by much of Weston's work so one time I decided to try photographing a green bell pepper, just to see if I could produce the same magic with an ordinary object. I used the same angle and tried to duplicate the lighting. Did I produce a 'Weston Replica'? Nope! I got some interesting results but the photograph did not look the same as his. My particular style, vision and shooting methods came thru in my image. So, does that make me a plagerist?
     
  9. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    This is not meant as a slam. But if you did accomplish your goal then yes, that would be plagerism. But since you were unable then your technique failed you. I am sure you learned from the experience however. You probably realized that Weston's way of doing it isn't yours. So you were able to take from Weston what you wanted and then move on. Rather than just trying harder to get it "right" the next time, with the next pepper.
     
  10. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Not saying that this is the case here but perhaps you didn't copy it exactly was because you didn't posess the ability to directly reproduce it. To not have the technical ability is but a close copy is not a style, in my opinion. In essence you were trying to copy but failed. PLEASE NOTE I'M NOT SAYING THAT IS THE CASE IN YOUR INSTANCE BUT IN OTHERS IT COULD BE.

    Eric wrote:

    Please read what I am saying. If I saw a Keena photo I really liked and went out and did my best to copy it (or maybe just changed it a little bit), this after I have mastered the technical aspect of the craft, is that plagiarism?

    If that is the only question you want answered then yes it is plagiarism. But so what?

    However your next sentence you say that you sought to "interpret" something differently from someone else, then that I would argue is no longer plageraism. You are not any longer copying but making your own personal interpretation.

    I think "intent" has to enter the conversation. If you intended to copy then it's plageraism, if you intended to do your own interpretation then it is not.


    Michael
     
  11. Joe Symchyshyn

    Joe Symchyshyn Member

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    Example: If I saw some amazing images... and we all claim that the image is what is important... If I did copy work and handprinted exact copies, technically if the image alone is what is important don't my new versions being just as good as the originals deserve equal merit? They aren't the same as the original because of issues OTHER THAN what the image is. I guess motivation does come into play here.

    I don't know about you guys, but I'm on my way to the slot canyons to get me a picture of a twisty orange cavern with a single beam of light shinning down. No one's done that shot before...

    joe :smile:
     
  12. 127

    127 Member

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    If you title it "Bell Pepper in the style of Weston", then your totally in the clear. Simlarly you can put it in the "artists statement" - totally OK. It may be a derrived work, it may be you'd run into copyright issues (I don't know - thats a whole other ball game), but ethically you're totally in the clear. You've produced your own work, fully acknoweding Westons input - it's then up to the viewer to decide it YOU have brought anything new and worthwhile to the subject, but they do that with the appropriate information.

    On the other hand if you were to tell me a story about how you were making chilli one day, and were struck by an artistic vision... Or you deny ever having heard of Weston, than you're trying to pass off someone elses ideas as your own. That makes you a naughty boy...

    In the case of something as famous as the peppers, you'd be on safe(ish) ground assuming that people would recognise it, and could get away with an implicit reference. For a more obscure original artist you probably should make the reference explicit, just to have a clear conscience.

    Ian
     
  13. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I don't really consider this plagiarism, and I think being influenced by another photorapher can have very satisfying results. I think many photographers' work is derivative of others' work, but I believe that is the nature of the creative process. I think going through this process may eventually lead you to a more original work.

    If you tried to sell your version of the rock as a Kirby, then I'd have to call that plagiarism... or forgery.

    My 2 cents.
     
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  15. Digidurst

    Digidurst Subscriber

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    Technically, that would make me a naughty girl :wink:
     
  16. david b

    david b Member

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    This is a thread that I am very interested in reading.

    I live in Santa Fe New Mexico. A place that every famous and non-famous photographer has come to and we all photograph the same things.

    Look at Rancheros de Taos. Black Rock Mesa. White Sands. Taos Pueblo. The list goes on and on.

    I live about 30 minutes from a beautiful church that lies below black rock mesa. Go to http://www.donkirbyphotography.com/ and check out the new work section. This is a great place to photograph. A local charity is going to have a show of just pictures of this church at black rock mesa.

    So, if I go out and photograph this place with a red filter on a storm cloudy day, is it plagarism? (BTW, a fence blocks access to the church). I am not sure.
     
  17. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    When the Vermeer exhibit came to the Met in NYC, his art was presented with a number of other Flemish masters. It was, in fact, not always easy to identify Vermeer's work from his contemporaries. The baroque and classical eras in music are similarly sometimes referred to as the 'period of common practice'. Composers were not attempting to create unique and original visions, but to practice their art in a way most people would recognize as fitting and appropriate in the style of the era. When someone did break new ground, others followed insofar as they could utilize the new technics themselves. Hence one encounters 'schools' and 'ism's...acceptance gave permission to make art according to the 'new' imperatives of impressionism, chromaticism, serialism, expressionism and etc, etc.

    When you put your tripod in the holes left by another photographer in the same light with the same lens, you are clearly (imho) committing plagerism. When you do large format, modernistic, black and white photogrqaphy at Point Lobos, however, you're subscribing to the vision of the Westons and other masters...."Yes! I see! There's much here to work with." They get the greater 'credit' because they discovered the site perhaps, but nothing more. Otherwise, all those dunes and slit canyons, and Yosemigraphs, and Lobosgraphs and Tuscanisms have to be discarded, the photographers arrested, and their eyes gouged out. ;-)

    Too much is made of 'originality' for its own sake.
     
  18. mark

    mark Member

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    I look at it like writing. If I had a photo from another artist and sold it as if I made it then I have plagerised it. If I set up a Keenaesque photo I would just be copying and not well respected until I found my own voice or "style"
     
  19. mfobrien

    mfobrien Member

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    This is an interesting thread. Plagiarism is copying what someone else wrote and passing it off as your own body of work. I think emulation is a better term for photography. Nobody can really plagiarize another's photo unless you take a copy of that photo and say that you are the photographer. How many times has half-dome been photographed? Just because Ansel did it "best" does that make the next guy a plagiarist. I think not. Just because a poet writes about the sea, and you write about the sea, does that make you a plagiarist? No.
    We all have photographers works that we admire. Maybe we even strive to be as accomplished as they were either in acceptance, technical merit, or how many bucks they made while living. We are all influenced by the work of others, whether it is music, painting, skateboarding, or photography.
    So, if I admire the work of John Shaw, and I take macro photographs, does that make me a plagiarist? No, we just use the same tools.
    Emulate = to use the same style or subject matter of photography as someone else;
    Copy = to place a photo on a copy stand and rephotograph it
    Plagiarize = to take that copied photo and say you did it
    Forgery = to take a photo and sign Weston's name to it...
    Procrastinate = to think about taking pictures, but instead spend all of ones time at the computer
     
  20. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    Interesting analysis. I suppose there are those that never grow beyond the "emulate" stage. After a while maybe they even delude themselves into thinking they are actually doing something original, which philosophically might be construed as plagiarizim.

    My little Collins Dictionary says: emulate-strive to equal or excel; imitate.

    As I've said before I feel we all go thru this stage, but those that never progress any further could drop the "late" off emulate and thus be defined as an Emu. A flightless bird. Looks like a photographer, talks like a photographer, uses a photographers tools, but has no originality or depth of consciousness. I guess they are just photographers and not artists.

    I know I'm pushing things here, but it's to generate discussion. I know there are some that abhor originality for originalities sake. In a lot of cases this might be valid, but if there is no originality where does that leave us?
     
  21. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    The focus of the meaning of originality needs to be clarified. Mature work that reflects the unique vision of the photogrpher is, a priori, original because no one else sees in exactly that way. That makes originality, defined in this way, inevitable. But, originality for its' own sake, is by definition false, because originality becomes the focus of the artist rather than honesty toward the subject of the artwork.
     
  22. mark

    mark Member

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    This is not necessarily true. About a year ago a photog sued a record company over the cover of a CD. The company requested he do the cover. When he did they did not like his price for the final image so chose not to buy. The CD came out and the cover looked very similar to the original artists concept. The judge ruled in his favor because the image could be confused with the work of the original artist. Side by side the images were very, very similar but there were differences as well. In the end the amount of similarities out wieghed the differences, and the original artist had a right to the concept which he came up with.
     
  23. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Barnbaum has an original recognizeable style? Huh?

    .

    .

    .

    .​

    Let the market (market of galleries, publishers, ideas, take your pick) and the critics sort it out after the work is created. If there's something of merit in it, and you remain focused on getting it in front of people, it will eventually come through. Worrying about whether it's original is to pretty much guarantee that it won't be, because it won't get made at all. Make the work first, rather than speculating about it from a cozy desk chair.

    kb
    (who should be so lucky as to be confused with anyone on the "A" list :tongue:)
     
  24. Ian Leake

    Ian Leake Subscriber

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    Surely you can plagiarise someoe's idea, concept or creative vision too. For example, I was recently on a workshop taken by David Ward and Joe Cornish. One morning I had worked hard to compose my best photo of a particular subject before Joe wandered over and suggested some changes. Not suprisingly his composition was much better than mine. Now if I posted the second image as my work, then although there never was a "Joe Cornish original", I would still be committing plagiarism.
     
  25. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I think that adding the "legal" to the debate just confuses the issue because it deals with money. Copying for monetary reasons as such just deprives the originator of income.

    In this debate is it not more about the "ethics" of copying not the legalities.

    Michael
     
  26. ian_greant

    ian_greant Member

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    What is the real issue here? Do we create ownership of something, anything just because we photograph it? Is it fenced off forever so that no one else can approach it with a lens in hand?

    Does someone trespass us because they photograph a place we photographed or in a way we have photographed?

    If you seek to be original and uncopied then either through vision, technique or journey we need to travel where few if any can follow.

    Climbing from your car to get roadkill is a journey that anyone can make - and they will.