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Thread: Photography and Plagiarism - A Personal Story

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Aug 2001
    SF Bay Area

    Photography and Plagiarism - A Personal Story

    I have omitted the backstory of how, at the age of eight, I sat on a barstool in the home of Edward Weston viewing his photographs as he placed each 8x10 gelatin silver print on an easel under the skylight.

    That was in 1949, and in 1951 my visit took on significance; I was no longer a mere observer, I had become a participant in the art of photography! On my tenth birthday that year, Grandmother gave me a preloaded mail-in box camera equipped with a simple shutter and wire viewfinder. It was named a Hollywood camera; for two years I produced photographs with feelings of accomplishment and excitement. The camera provided a dozen exposures, after which, with a dollar bill placed inside and stamps affixed, it was mailed away. Approximately ten days later a new camera arrived accompanied by the negatives and resulting square prints made with the previous camera. Depending on subject distance and light intensity, the prints were sometimes satisfactory. However, most often they lacked the focus for close-up photography, which was the way I viewed things.

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    Recently, I made some prints from the Hollywood camera negatives. They represent my initial attempts at photography almost seven decades ago at the age of ten. One of the prints was of a subject, earlier photographed by Edward Weston in 1939; specifically, a broken window at the Golden Circle Mine in Death Valley. I located a reproduction of his image and placed it next to mine taken a dozen years later with my box camera.

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    The two photographs are strikingly similar, with the exception of lighting and deterioration between our respective visits --- similar enough to border on photography plagiarism. However, I do not recall if I had yet viewed Edward's photograph from my barstool perch; if so, I prefer to think of the similarities as a case of inspiration, rather than one of imitation. I could not have had a better teacher. In any event, my fascination with broken windows as worthy subjects originated at the Golden Circle Mine in 1951.

    Edward Weston photo , Arizona Board of Regents

  2. #2

    Join Date
    May 2015
    SooooCal/LA USA

    Re: Photography and Plagiarism - A Personal Story

    I don't have the photo handy, but in the 90's, I was in the old financial district in lower Manhattan on a dead, dark, empty monochrome afternoon (way pre OWS)... I had a barely working Leica M with a 35mm lens on it, and 2475 recording film in it... Wall St looked dark and dead... I noticed the sky would turn white, but the buildings were cold and dark, so an extreme contrast...

    I had read long before an article by Bernice Abbot about adding feeling to architecture photos by choice of angle, by allowing the building to stretch up to the sky in harmony if they were the epitome of progress, or maybe they were man's folly where the buildings might stretch dizzly or even falling!!! She said that this was the choice of the photographer...

    It was dark and spooky in the bottom of that dark canyon, and I decided to reflect that, and even let some buildings twist on their foundations!!!

    So the pixs printed with no grain, due to just no midtones, only very sharp edged edge effects... Just printed 4x5's proof prints..

    Had gotten a new Abbot book, and deep inside, an image I never saw before of a high angle bldg shot, complete with swinging bldgs, was a shot I also had done almost exactly, so I figure I must have been standing in the tripod leg spread of Bernice, as all the perspectives matched exactly!!!

    Too weird...

  3. #3
    Ray Van Nes
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Calgary, AB Canada

    Re: Photography and Plagiarism - A Personal Story

    A couple of times I had the delightful experience of encountering a subject covered by someone well known. On both occasions , I also made an image with no intention of sharing it but enjoying the recognition of the original inspiration of the artist. One was stair post at the imperial palace in Kyoto that had been taken by Brett Weston. Mine on that occasion was a bit soft but even if it had been successful, I would not share it without recognizing its origins.

  4. #4
    Vaughn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Humboldt County, CA

    Re: Photography and Plagiarism - A Personal Story

    Great story, Merg.

    Photographing in Yosemite over the years, it is difficult not to accidently use the same tripod holes as Adams, Sexton, et al. I found this one of mine in one of Sexton's books, Listen to the Trees, plate No.46.

    The quality of light is similar, his image is a vertical. His is a silver gelatin print from a 4x5 (I've never seen the actual print) and mine is an 8x10 platinum/palladium print. Personally I like mine better, but I'm a bit biased.

    His image is dated 3/1991, and I made mine in 2005 (his book was published in 1994). I got the book in 2010 or so.

    This scene can be easily seen from the road just as one enters through the the entrance station on Hwy 140 and passes through the rock arch. Adams probably had a negative of the scene, but never printed it, LOL!
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Oak, Pine, Rock.jpg  
    "Landscapes exist in the material world yet soar in the realms of the spirit..." Tsung Ping, 5th Century China

  5. #5
    Tin Can's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011

    Re: Photography and Plagiarism - A Personal Story

    Interesting stories.

    I am not sure any of these examples are plagiarism.

    Read this. Photography: Avoiding Plagiarism

    And this link from the above.

    Perhaps some will seek evidence.

    I have found a few of my images in odd places, during an image search, but thought it a lost cause.

    Merg you are not guilty, age 10!
    sin eater

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Oregon now (formerly Austria)

    Re: Photography and Plagiarism - A Personal Story

    I've done similar things, i.e., inadvertently photographing the same scene in almost the same way as one of the greats before me had (though not at age 10...). If I discover that my version is too close to a well-known earlier one I'll retire the image, but sometimes I think my image is different enough to warrant exhibiting.

    Case in point:

    Ansel Adams - Zabriskie Point, made in 1942:
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    ... and my "Furrows" made in 1998 (below; I can't seem to get it in line here for some reason):

    Mine is horizontal vs. vertical and arranged differently. I had never seen the Adams' image when I made this (somewhat surprisingly), only discovering it some years later. I'm not sure that would have prevented me from making the image, however. It's difficult to work popular areas and, if not duplicate, then not address the same subjects and features as photographers and artists who have gone before. I see no harm in that. IM-HO, originality is overrated.


    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails furrows.jpg  

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    now in Tucson, AZ

    Re: Photography and Plagiarism - A Personal Story

    There's a long history of this sort of thing. Two good books on this subject come to mind- one by Richard Whelan (which title I've forgotten, it's in storage) and Geoff Dyer's 'The Ongoing Moment'.
    Here's an example of my own- my wife's family home, a semi-conscious homage to Strand's 'White Fence'.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails homestead-final.jpg  

  8. #8
    Corran's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    North GA Mountains

    Re: Photography and Plagiarism - A Personal Story

    Quote Originally Posted by Tin Can View Post
    I am not sure any of these examples are plagiarism.
    Certainly not, in the legal sense.

    Here's my example. I have a few shots taken close to where Clyde Butcher setup. I was actually hoping to see him here in Myakka State Park when I went, as I was told by one of his gallery workers that he was shooting there a lot recently. No such luck.



    Bryan | Blog | YouTube | Instagram
    All comments and thoughtful critique welcome

  9. #9
    Drew Wiley
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    SF Bay area, CA

    Re: Photography and Plagiarism - A Personal Story

    Putting your tripod in the same holes as others doesn't necessarily equate to plagiarism. The lighting might be completely different, the season,etc; and anyone truly skilled is going to come up with their own interpretation of the scene anyway. It's those who don't have that kind of self-confidence that try to copycat.

  10. #10
    Vaughn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Humboldt County, CA

    Re: Photography and Plagiarism - A Personal Story

    That's why I did not use the word in my post -- just dang close. I have photographed one of Ansel's trees along the Merced River-- in fact I have photographed it with 4x5, 5x7, 8x10 and 11x14.

    Here is the 8x10 version below(carbon print). Because single transfer carbon prints reverse the image, the Merced is flowing the opposite direction!

    PS -- the top of the oak was gone by this image -- and now completely worries about plagiarism!!!

    Here is a link to AA's.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Merced_Oak_Roots_YNP.jpg  
    "Landscapes exist in the material world yet soar in the realms of the spirit..." Tsung Ping, 5th Century China

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