I recently read with great interest a Facebook discussion among landscape photographers. The premise was that if a photograph can be closely duplicated by another photographer, then it is not truly an original nor deserving of being considered art.
Though I did not contribute to the exchange, I do feel this is a larger topic than whether a specific image is a work of art. In fact, I think it reflects on a significant flaw in the general appreciation of photography, as opposed to other fine arts.
Let me start by saying that my opinion, and the facts, do not support the argument made. Reproduction, and indeed outright forgeries, of art are nothing new and have a history as long as art itself. Still, in other disciplines, a reproduction or forgery are readily dismissed as such and, no matter how expertly produced, would not come close to being valued as the original.
In fine art photography, for some reason, the connection between the artist and the art is readily severed, sometimes even by the artist him/herself!
Those of us in “the trade” can readily rattle off lists of great photographers. The average viewer of art, though, will likely not recognize most of them. Show a random American the image of “Migrant Mother” and they will likely recognize it. Ask them who made it, and you’ll be lucky to find one in a hundred who recalls Dorothea Lange.
It is easy to blame general apathy towards art, lacking education, or any number of reasons outside the photographer’s control, and surely these are all contributing factors, but I contend it is us – photographers – who are the chief contributors to such ignorance.
Most photographers, when presenting their prints, will meekly sign their names on the mat, rather than the work itself, and in pencil! Are they ashamed to put their mark on their own creation like any other artist? Why?
Many photographers also consider it a minor offense, or no offense at all, to knowingly and deliberately make copies of others’ images and pass them as their own, thus blurring or completely erasing the due creative credit to the original artist.
Lastly, the belief stated in the thread referenced above, that if I am capable of making a copy, it means the original was not truly worthy, is misguided at best. It is the kind of perverse thinking that makes some photographers destroy their subject after making an image, or hold secret the location of certain places. They do so because they know other photographers will be the first to disrespect their vision.
Can you think of Gauguin stumbling on the same sunflower field painted by Van Gogh and thinking to himself “hey, I can make the same painting”? Or, how about Hemingway duplicating passages form Melville when writing about the sea?
It’s time we stopped doing it to ourselves! How can we expect the public to treat a photographic artist with the same reverence as great painters or poets or novelists when we so readily dismiss the genius of our own colleagues and devalue the vision of our own kin?
About the Author (Author Profile)Guy Tal is a published author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau – a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Iconic locations and the making of art. | View from the Little Red Tent | May 6, 2010
- Photo This » Read This for 05.07.2010 | May 7, 2010
- Copying Other Photographers Images; Good, Bad, Legal? | Pro Nature Photographer | May 15, 2010
- Copying Discussion Follow-Up | Guy Tal Photography Web Journal | May 16, 2010
- Man Ray On Art And Originality » Landscape Photography Blogger | May 19, 2010