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  1. #1
    Eric Rose's Avatar
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    When does imitation become plagiarism?

    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.
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  2. #2
    blansky's Avatar
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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. #3

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    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. #4
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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.
    Scott Stadler

  5. #5
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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.

    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.
    [COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]

    Ralph Barker
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  6. #6
    127
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbarker
    I'm not sure there is a definite line between immitation and plagiarism.
    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. #7
    Eric Rose's Avatar
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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.
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  8. #8
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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. #9
    Eric Rose's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Digidurst
    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?
    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.
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  10. #10
    blansky's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Digidurst
    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?
    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

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