Saturday, May 22, 2010

Derivation, Plagarism and the 'ownership' of motifs...

There has been much written on the interweb in the last few years about plagiarism. The 'I'm sick of talking about it... but ...' Jörg Colberg has been at the centre of many of these debates.

It is one of the main reasons that I retreated from 'urban' photography as living in such a small city (relatively speaking) it is and has been the case that motifs pop up in the work of multiple artists. I also deliberately moved away from enthropic scenes due to an international prevalence of such things.

It seems to be a case of 'he/she did it first so they own that motif' in the eyes of the arts community.

Often my work has been compared to the work of others and I've had my share of uncomfortable moments with statements posed like 'your work is very similar to...'

I don't like this idea that I have to then defend what I do, especially considering that almost certainly hundreds if not thousands of photographers have probably shot the same or similar things in the past.

It causes me huge amounts of anxiety when I'm working on a series of work only to then discover that this or that person has or is doing something similar. Do I discontinue what I'm doing, irrelevant of any validity of the work itself?

A few times work or ideas very similar to stuff I had done 10 years ago pops up. I don't think it's valid or even logistically possible (my stuff being unpublished or only shown in very small circles) to accuse those artists of 'nicking' my ideas just as I could almost certainly find older manifestations of the same if I poked around a bit.

A recent example of this is a series of beautiful colour images of burnt plant forms by Eva Fernandez. A few years ago I shot semi-rotten leaves, seedpods, etc isolated on black backgrounds (in monochrome) similar to the tool series (What I Am) I did in 2005/2006.

Admittedly I abandoned the work due to other concerns and only a small group have ever seen the images. That said, whilst I have/had no particular interest in showing the work, I do feel that now I can't show it even if I wanted to.

I'm almost to the point of feeling I need to 'publish' work as quickly as possible to avoid conflict. This is a completely stupid proposition as it means I'm potentially putting poor-quality, unpolished work into circulation.

This argument is taken even further when you know even simple photographic history. Using the same argument no-one is allowed to make images of Peppers (Weston), Water Towers (Bechers), Metal Cogs (Seivers/Hine), Flowers (Mapplethorpe, Weston), Trees (Adams/Weston), Southern 'wetness' (Mann), Freaks - for want of a better word (Arbus/Mann), Buttocks (Sieff), Legs (Newton), Flags (Frank), Debauch wealth (Parr), Kitsch (Parr), Emptiness (Shore/Eggleston), Subways (Evans), Abandoned Farmhouses (Richards/Evans), Cars with doors open (Crewdson), Hotel rooms (Eggleston/Soth et al), Pretty much everything (Wall/Bresson/Evans) .... I think you get the point.

A classic local example of this - for those versed in Australian Photography - is the prevalence of night images of phone boxes, typically with some angsty teenager on the phone. It's a simple and effective social motif that's been compromised by image saturation. One piece ultimately suffers for awareness of the other.

Just a side note someone posted something the other day on FB (not sure who anymore) saying that 'they'd seen enough Darth Vader helmet images so it's time to move on'. It did remind me of this image but ultimately that's exactly the point... when 'honest' why would it not be valid?

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