is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” Herman Melvile
I had a very interesting thing happen the other day. I went
to my mail box, the physical one, and on the cover of a publication was an
image that stopped me in my tracks. So I went inside and showed it to my wife
whose eyes got very large upon seeing it. “How can they copy you like that?”
she cried. She was rather upset at it all and I thought it was funny. Why?
Well the deal is that the cover shot was what appears to be
a poor imitation of one of my images. How can I say that? Well it goes as
follows: I have a photo in my folio that I produced a little over a year ago
where the same subject, but not same exact person, is standing in essentially
the same spot, facing the same way, posed in a very similar manner, shot with
the same angle of view, from the same perspective only without my better and
more dramatic lighting. Big deal – it’s
a co-inky-dink. I’m not so sure.
Ya see I know the publication. I know the editor who
assigned the photo. The editor has seen my folio. The person who made the image
may not be fully aware of me and my work but the editor is. I’m not sure whose
idea it was but the person in charge had to have known in the back of their
mind that the image was familiar.
Or it was intentional but not as a “copy” so much as an
inspiration. I get that. I have lots of inspirational images that float around
in my head. Inspiration is important. I never tried to imitate anyones work let
alone copy an image. I did and do look at other peoples work and learn from it.
As I’ve said before I will sometimes think to myself “What would Joel Sartore/Albert
Watson/Joey Terill/some other cool photog/ do with this complete mess of a
situation?” Then I’d put my twist on that bit of inspiration.
Truth be told I’m just about to go to a shoot that was inspired
by someone else’s work. Well not a single image, more like 2-3 different ones
from different photographers, and what I’m going to be doing will not look like
the shots that gave me the “Ah-HA!.” Similar kind of location but, different
lighting, different subject, different mood and my own twist on top of it all. That
will end up being a shot that is mine and not one where you can say “Mmm, didn’t
Whatshisname shoot something like this?”
Still for the photog who may or may not have been inspired
by my image: either way I’m flattered.
I’ve had the same thing happen on a few occasions, and it’s kind of irritating! Given, I’m no pro, but I’ve had friends do this, which is almost the worst. My reaction inside tends to be – – can’t you scope out different locations, rather than squatting on all of my footwork? They should have given you the job, in the first place, rather than paying a copycat to do it.
Even worse, was when a major local newspaper just took one of my images and cut out my watermark. That was sleazy.