Quote Originally Posted by Cheryl Jacobs
I am constantly seeing images that are attempts to recreate mine -- VERY close copies (as I'm sure many of us on this board have experienced.) It can get annoying sometimes (extremely annoying on occasion) but it's not such a big deal to me, since usually those photographers are imitating in order to learn, rarely for profit.
About half of what I shoot (well, about 20% now that I'm shifting gears to completely b&w analog and re-figuring out my entire process) involves monitary profit. Aside from some of the WPA-era photographers, I've been hard pressed to find a portraitist who exemplifies the direction I want to go with my portraits more than you, Cheryl. At the end of this chapter in my growth as a photographer, I don't want my portraits to end up looking exactly like yours, but I certain subscribe to the same school... the same approach to portraiture. I think the great majority of the message conveyed in a portrait should be who a person is, how they feel, how they feel toward themselves and anyone or anything else in the picture.

I think a certain elegance of composition and a well-executed print can go a long way toward releasing that message to the viewer. I also think that good art will have a message that is common to most viewers, and another more subtle message that is unique to each viewer.

This discussion on plagiarism and copying has me thinking and somewhat worried, though. I'll give you an example. A while back, my wife Dianna, 2-year old son Alec and I were vacationing in Houston. Alec and the Ben, child of a friend of ours, started jumping around on our motel bed. Fabulous opportunity, but I had the wrong film in my camera to shoot it, and before I could swap out the film, the moment was gone. Let's say I did get some great shots, though. This was long before I saw the clip of your session with the two girlls from the newscast. Chances are, that some of the images from that session and the ones of the girls might bear some simularity, even though I hadn't seen your session yet.

Isn't there some inherant risk with photographers who share common artistic values, or who (at the risk of sounding pretentious) are in the same school, having certain commonalities to images of the same type?

How many times have we heard rock musicians list off who were their greatest influences (Beatles, Grateful Dead, etc.) and sure enough, we can see the stylistic influence of those artists in their work. Isn't one of the roles of an artistic community to influence each other, just like peer review in science?

While I've approached many images with a memory of or inspiration by other images I've seen, I've never consciously tried to out-and-out copy anyone else's work, even as an exercise. It's not so much that I'm ethically compelled, but that I just don't have the memory to remember which of all my negatives would be legitimate if I started inserting illegitimate ones in the mix. Occasionally, some of what Dianna shoots and some of what I shoot will get mixed, and I tend to go out of my way to avoid claiming anything that I know I wasn't completely responsible for.

I guess what has me worried in this thread is that now it seems pretty gray to me how much portraiture I can do in natural light, with non-PPA posing (or not posing at all), capturing what I see as a portrait of who someone is rather than just what they look like before someone else in the same school might be offended that I'm ripping them off.

How do you guys approach your sessions? What do you do to ensure appropriate artistic distance between your work and what's gone before (or after, for that matter). This might seem like a weird and paranoid question, but the analog is common in writing. I've heard of writers who insist on not reading anything in their own genre to ensure that months or years later, it doesn't come out in some fashion on their own pages. I've had several writing teachers and editors tell me that there is merit to writing in a vacuum, at least in terms of seeing other people's work.

Ideally, I'd like to expose myself to as much varied portraiture as I can get my eyes on. I can say with certainty that, as an artist, I've been changed by seeing Cheryl's work, just like I have with that of some of the WPA-era portraitists. I think that change is a positive synthesis and is the only way the artist can grow and fill the space they see for themselves. It would be a shame if any resulting artistic overlap were given illegitimacy.

This post is getting pretty long, so I'll omit the long tome I'm tempted to go into about the cathedral and the bazaar, but I'll attempt to sum up in a couple of sentences. I interrupted my career as a photographer by a 12-year distraction in computers (data communications, network mgt, UNIX sysadmin, etc). One of the giants of open source software, Eric Raymond, wrote an essay and a book describing how software can be the product of a cathedral (like Microsoft or IBM) or a Bazaar (such as the Open Source community). Seems to me that applies to photography as well. I think there's good cathedral photography: images that are completely unlike anything that has come before; and good bazaar images: images whose creators are standing on the shoulders of those who have come before. It could be argued that the first generation photographers were in a bazaar with the painters and other artists who came before.

Are cathedral images the only legitimate ones?