The Art of Copying

| May 6, 2010

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?

Spring in the Badlands

Spring in the Badlands

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Category: All Posts, Rants and Raves, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

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.

Comments (39)

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  1. Paul Grecian says:

    The idea that any image which can be reproduced doesn’t warrant the title of art is silly. I find your assertion that photographers (the artist) often sever themselves from their work interesting. I don’t think I’ve made this same observation or maybe I haven’t looked for it. I will suggest that photographers also sever themselves from their art with their regular notion that it’s “nature’s art” and the idea that images are “found”. I wonder whether most photographers even consider what they do to be a form of art. It’s no wonder the audience is often confused or can’t remember a photographer’s name.

  2. Roberta says:

    I agree that deliberately making the exact same image as someone else is highly unoriginal, but the nature of photography is such that if two people happen on the same location at different times without knowledge of each other, it is possible the exact same image will unintentionally result. It wouldn’t make one version more authentic than the other, would it?

    As for the original discussion, I think if a photographer can just stand in front of a great landscape in the middle of the afternoon and take a picture, it may not be art. Art would be taking that great landscape and working to make it your own; putting your own emotion into the scene. Whether that be through perspective, composition, time of day, interpretation, etc. There has to be more thought and effort put in to making the image than merely standing there and pressing the shutter.

  3. Edie Howe says:

    Hello, Guy.

    You said “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?”

    Using pencil to sign a work is actually an old-school technique; It’s a way to prove that the signature is legitimate, and not made by a machine. Hollywood stars often used machines to sign their portrait images, and those prints today are not worth as much as ones signed in pencil. Here’s a video of a signature machine: http://www.signaturemachine.com/products/demo_page.htm

    They use pens because the ink flows to the tip, where a pencil wears down and must be adjusted downward in order to make contact with the medium.

    Pens also will leave an indentation in the print, which is considered damage.

    Look at old library books; location notations on the first page are made in pencil instead of pen because they (pencils) don’t indent the paper.

    Signing the matte is another way of avoiding damage to the print.

    It’s not about meekness, it’s about respecting the print, and proving the signature is authentic at a later date.

    Hope this helps, and thanks for a great article.
    Edie
    Little Red Tent

  4. Guy Tal says:

    Thanks for the great responses, folks!

    Roberta, I absolutely recognize that duplication can happen by accident and without intent, but I also see the constant flow of email requests asking me about locations of specific images posted on my site from people unapologetically asking to duplicate them. I’m sure they don’t consider it malicious in any way, but it is an indication of the difference in perspective.
    And of course, as you know, I agree 100% with the concept of reflecting the artist’s personal thoughts and emotions into the work. This is not to say that the product of such reflection can’t be easily duplicated. The same holds true for writing. I can very easily transcribe a Walt Whitman poem in my own hand. That doesn’t make it my poem.

    Edie, I agree with everything you said, but what you describe is exactly the problem – the perceived value of having a smooth sheet of paper is, to some, more valuable than the subjectively “flawed” product of the person behind it.When you think about it, it is soulless machines that are created to implement perfect/undamaged products. Products of humans are inherently flawed by virtue of, well, being products of humans. I will gladly take any print personally “damaged” by a great artist over one promoting anonymous perfection.

    Guy

  5. Rhoda says:

    Guy – I’ve had this discussion with many different artists and I appreciate your comments here.

  6. Great points as always Guy!

    Copying is a great way to learn. The best artists of all time intentionally did it, often traveling for a month to see a graet work in a gallery and attempt a copy. But they did it to study and improve their technique.

    In photography, average copies do come across as copies to the trained eye. But since there are so many billions of variables involved in the making of a photograph, even a photo taken in deep tripod holes at an iconic place can be a unique work of art.

    Nobody owns a location, but we do own our own vision!

    Patrick

  7. Edie Howe says:

    I’ve written up my own contribution to this discussion on my blog. You can read it here: http://littleredtent.net/LRTblog/2010/05/06/iconic-locations-and-the-making-of-art/

    This is an important discussion, Guy, and thank you for spreading outside of Facebook.

    Edie

  8. Edie Howe says:

    Guy, you said: “I will gladly take any print personally “damaged” by a great artist over one promoting anonymous perfection.”

    When you buy one of my unmatted prints, I will happily sign it in pen on the front, just for you! ;-)

    All the best,
    Edie

  9. Julian says:

    What strikes me about signing in pencil on the matte is how temporary it is. For one thing, the print can become, for whatever reason, detached from the original matte and for another, pencil marks are easily rubbed off – unless a fixative is sprayed on the matte after signing.

    On the other hand, perhaps, in this day and age, signing on the print itself could be all too easily simulated in Photoshop?

  10. Edie Howe says:

    Julian,

    We don’t determine the future of our work–art brokers do. Art auctions are famous for including such things as “signed by the artist” in descriptions for works of art as a way of increasing the monetary value of the pieces they sell.

    Yes, pencil smudges, but that’s part of the valuation process. A smudged signature makes it worth less than a pristine pencil signature, and having the original matte is much like an antique book with the original dust jacket still on it.

    Silly, yes. But there it is. Perceived condition of a piece is part of the valuation.

    As for including a digitalized signature using Photoshop, well, that’s right up there with using a signing machine. Any good art broker is going to be able to tell it’s not legitimately signed by the artist.

    It really is all about playing by existing rules when you place an initial value on a print. Pencil is the way to ensure future value, and it’s up to the buy to maintain the condition of the print once they buy it from you.

    Edie

  11. Greg Russell says:

    Guy, as usual this is a great post. I’ve written on my on blog about the issues I have (and at the same time the issues I don’t have) with photographing the icons. Yet, I still believe that my photograph of Mesa Arch–for instance–is original and therefore is a result of my own photographic vision. No one else photographed that arch from that angle at that instant.

    Once I was in Joshua Tree, photographing the boulders near Jumbo Rocks, and I met another photographer who was looking for some more well-known boulders in the area. I talked with him for a moment, then watched as he set up his tripod. Then, from his pocket, he pulled out other photographers’ photos of the boulders and arranged his tripod so as to get the exact same angle as he saw in the photos. When I asked him about it, he replied, “These are what sells.”

    While my work is certainly inspired by other photographers–including you–I want more than anything for it to be my own. Not a copy of someone else’s.

    And, I second Edie’s sentiment…whenever you want, I’ll be happy to sign a print just for you!

    Thanks again for a great post.

  12. Floris says:

    Hey Guy, been a while since your last post – good to read your thoughts again! I wanted to clarify what your opinion on the matter is, since I was a little confused. The statement, roughly quoted, said, ‘the best work of a landscape photographer is something that cannot be duplicated.” That implies that if a photograph can be duplicated, then it loses it’s value, and is no longer the ‘best work’, or ‘art’. But rather, you’re saying that suppose someone copied an image, the original should not lose it’s status as ‘art’, but rather we should dismiss the duplicate for what it is: a duplicate. Is that correct?

    I can agree with that, but I still think there is truth to the original statement. IMO, ones best work is going to be something that is at least very difficult to duplicate, otherwise it does not carry a unique and personal vision with it, which for me (and I’m pretty sure for you too!) is necessary for something to truly be art. My problem with the statement is that it places a lot of emphasis on photographs that rely on serendipity for the majority of their impact – like incredible weather, or a special wildflower bloom. Those, IMO, are not the most important ingredients for a real piece of art. Those are nature’s works of art, for the photographer to be considered the artist there needs to be some unique and personal interpretation of those phenomenon (otherwise we’re just really good documentary photographers).

    Aside: The destruction of subjects to prevent copying is despicable.. and if that’s what’s required to make a photograph unique, then it’s missing something much bigger IMO.

    Curious to hear your thoughts :)

  13. Bob Fisher says:

    A great topic, Guy.

    While someone may go to the same spot, stand in the same place, use the same camera, lens, aperture, shutter speed, filters, etc. it still won’t be the same shot. There will be differences in the lighting, differences in the colours due to the lighting, flowers/trees may be in a different stage of bloom due to weather variations. There are a whole variety of things that will make the two photos different and each an original. Whether both or either of those is considered art is a matter for the viewing audience to decide.

    When I see a photo (or drawing or painting) of a scene or place that strikes me as interesting I like to know where it was too. Not so I can try to go and copy the same shot(s) but rather so I can go and try to find my own approach and find my own (maybe) unique perspectives on it.

    The provenance – how the piece is signed, framed, matted, what documentation it comes with and the like – is separate and distinct from the concept of whether a piece is art or not. If I don’t like a particular work it doesn’t matter who shot it or what the provenance of the print is, it has no value to me. So provenance is only of limited use in determining value. It only adds to the value for those who are interested in it to begin with. And sometimes it seems that the ancillary items (e.g., unsmudged signature, original matting, original framing) contribute more to the end value of the piece than the actual print itself which is a bit backwards when you think about it. Sometimes I think there’s too much concern with ‘creating’ provenance to enhance value and too little concern on creating art. Truth be told, the vast majority of us are never going to be in a position where the provenance matters. Either we’ll be dead by the time it does or we’ll never be well known enough while we’re alive to be able to take advantage of it through increased original sale prices. It’s not unlike the falderal of editioning (another aspect of alleged provenance). The impact of provenance is greatest in the secondary market where it no longer matters to the original artist.

  14. Ann Torrence says:

    Are musicians copying Beethoven when they play his symphonies? Chopin’s piano pieces? The artistry is in the performance, and yes I think of my photography as performance art. It begins in the dance with camera and subject, the moment of the click.

    Not every musician composes a symphony. But being a cover-band style photographer would get boring pretty fast.

  15. Guy says:

    Ann, you are exactly right. Every musician who performs a Beethoven symphony will proudly state exactly that. When was the last time you saw a photographer credit someone else for the composition?

    Things Photographers Can Learn From Musicians

    Guy

  16. Rob Tilley says:

    Hi Guy,

    As always some good food for thought.

    I spent many years living in Japan and in pre-modern China, Japan and Korea, most artists would copy works of the master. Often some copies would over time become recognized as masterpieces while the original work which was copied would become forgotten. I think this is a major difference between western and oriental art. However rennaisance artists in Europe would often work in the studio of a more famous artist and often not sign their work. That is why some famous artwork is known as “in the style of XXXXX”. There were several artists working in the same studio and for works which were not signed it is often impossible to deterimine exactly who the artist was. So I think artists all over the world are influenced by other artists and often copy artwork as a way to enhance their skill. A really great artist will copy another artwork, but add something special of his own which could make that work better than the original.

    On another note, I do sign the mat of my fine art prints in pencil. I also sign the back of the print. This is an artistic preference as I like the way this looks better than signing on the print itself. I do not think it means I think less of my work.

  17. Interesting discussion going on. I agree with Patrick pretty heartily. I think that copying a great photograph can be an outstanding learning tool, but that copying a photo in an attempt to produce a work of art is a flawed exercise.

    When I was a beginning photographer I deliberately copied great photographers’ work in an effort to learn because it forced me to analyze and realize what was different about what they were doing versus what I was doing to produce an image. Now that I am confident in my photography skills and I can take those lessons learned from copying and apply them to my own vision.

    Now that I am producing my own images for sale as art, I would never deliberately try to copy another photographer’s image. On one hand, I think it can be seen as a testament to the original photog’s skill, a la “I think this image is so good I want to produce one just like it!” But I think you do yourself a disservice if that is your constant m.o. because you are devaluing your own artistic vision. Once you have sufficiently developed your photography skills, the only thing that sets you apart from other photographers is your unique vision. If people can’t find your unique vision in your own work, you have lost your artistic soul. (not to sound too dramatic or anything :)

    I think this applies even to shooting iconic locations like Yosemite Valley or Horseshoe Bend or The Watchman. Sometimes it isn’t possible to produce an entirely new and creative image in these places, but you have to at least endeavor to try, because again, if you want people to see your unique artistic vision, you gotta bring something new to the table.

    In short, don’t cheat, kiddos, and stay in school.

    ~Josh

  18. QT Luong says:

    Let assume both you and I walk together in the Badlands and find a carpet of wildflowers. Maybe each of our unique visions will result in totally different images. Maybe not. As in a few weeks ago, I traveled with photographer Laurent Martres (of Phototrip USA) to Santa Cruz Island. Although most of the time we were not photographing side-by-side (we each hiked and worked at our own pace, I had LF + digi, he had just digi). That’s what happens given the nature of the medium.

  19. Interesting thoughts, everyone.

    Ann, as a former musician I really like your Beethoven reference. And it seems to me that any nature photographer claiming credit for a composition (in the musical sense you use) is either a very gifted and dedicated gardener or a bloody idiot!

    Mother nature (or god, if you lean that way) gives us endless opportunities to point our lenses at her works of art. Some of them are so special and so beautiful that they’ve become especially popular and attract more pairs of eyes. But the incredible, undeniable thing about humans is that every pair of eyes is unique.

    Guy, I also enjoyed your other “Things Photographers Can Learn From Musicians” post. One of the comments jokes about a modern composer being sued over copyright by a composer from a hundred years earlier – because the young fella was influenced by what came before and it showed in his work. But that’s exactly what happens with art and artists! We’re not scientists, recording data for database archival and once the data is recorded, that’s all anyone will ever need; we’re creative types who feed off the world around us, and that includes our colleagues and fore bearers. We are all influenced by what came before, and our creativity is shaped and stimulated by the world we live in – and the people we share it with. This is entirely natural, legitimate, and desirable – else why would we need music conservatories, dance academies, theater schools and so on? The other arts long ago recognized that such an atmosphere, and such concentrated interaction and influence, is a hotbed for creativity and artistic expression. Photography needs to catch up. Artistic inspiration – being inspired or influenced by someone else’s work – is not the same as removing someone’s watermark and passing the image off as your own.

    To get back to the musical metaphor, what if digital photography’s ridiculous notions of copying were applied to the symphony? Now, it’s entirely possible that someone beat Haydn to it, but let’s say that his marketing and PR was superior and got him credited as the father of the symphony. Applying today’s standards(!) that would mean that no-one else would be allowed to “steal” his art-form. No symphonies by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and so on and so on. Just from that one example, we’ve lost a very large, very significant chunk of western civilization’s musical heritage. (None of which hurt Haydn in the least.)

    And for those of you who aren’t into classical music, let’s put it like this: no iconic theme music to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter… Because guess what: John Williams is a musical descendant of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and all the rest. He listened to, and studied, their works in his formative years and was heavily influenced by them.

    Nothing exists in a vacuum!

    But before we embrace this tradition without reservation, it is worth pointing out that some progress has been made and should be kept. Almost every piece of music before Beethoven came along – and many that came after – was written as a work-for-hire. The only people that could afford to commission such things (and therefore keep the composer fed & watered) were the aristocracy; they called it the patronage system. Musicians were entirely dependent on the continued goodwill of their patrons, and literally lived as liveried servants. Beethoven was the first one to bust down the prison walls, and set a precedent for every subsequent creative artist which lasts to this day. But Mozart was the first one to try it, less than two decades earlier, and he died of starvation in abject poverty as a result, his body thrown in an unmarked pauper’s grave that was lost to his widow just three days later. He was just 36. What did we lose because of that?

    When we fight the good fight, we need to fight for three things:
    – The preservation of intellectual property / copyright protection;
    – The importance and legitimacy of artistic freedom, expression and influence – quite distinct from copyright infringement;
    – The ability to earn a decent, sustainable living from our work, so that the phrase “starving artist” remains a cliché in today’s society and doesn’t revert to being a reality.

    Obviously both the subject and the analogy “struck a chord” with me, if you’ll pardon the pun. Sorry if I went off on a little bit of a tangent, but I think it’s important to understand how things are connected. Thanks for reading, folks.

  20. Bob Fisher says:

    Moira, there are also plenty of examples in the history of visual art where artists relied on commissions from wealthy patrons to put food on the table because their own ‘art’ wasn’t so successful at one time.

    While I think your thoughts are interesting, I think you’re carrying the analogy too far. The idea that if, as in your example, Haydn created the first symphony and that the discussion of copying an individual photograph could mean that no one could have written a symphony after Haydn then by logical extension it would follow that the discussion isn’t surrounding the ‘copying’ of an individual photo but rather of all photography. In that case, no one but the person who took the first photo on film should be able to take a photo thereafter. Seems a bit of a stretch.

    WRT the comment on the concept of the starving artist being a cliché; if you think that the starving artist isn’t still a reality in today’s society then I think you may be kidding yourself. It’s a simple fact that very few artists are able to fully support themselves with their art. Even very good ones.

  21. Jim Peterson says:

    Guy – You make some excellent points, and I have no quibbles with any of them. However, there’s at least one additional point I’m inclined to mention.

    If Gauguin painted exactly the same sunflower field as Van Gogh, it’s a safe bet that few people would mistake the Gauguin painting for the Van Gogh. (Among other things, the presence of all those… Polynesian models in the Gauguin would be a dead giveaway!)

    And the same thing would most likely be true if two master photographers captured the same scene. Between the act of composing and capturing the image in the first place, and the subsequent processing of the image in the chemical or digital darkroom, the odds are pretty good that each master would create a final result that is uniquely theirs.

    And, incidentally, it would be more than a trivial matter for a less accomplished photographer to duplicate the creations of those masters, because of the personal stamp that the masters impart to their work. Many thousands of people have photographed the same scenes as Ansel Adams without coming close to duplicating Adams’ unique images.

    One big problem for photographers, as artists, is that when viewing photographs many people seem unable to distinguish the quality of the subject from the quality of the image.

    If a musician hits a wrong note during a concert, everyone in the room will flinch a bit. But I see the photographic equivalent of those wrong notes hanging on gallery walls all the time, and most folks just don’t seem to notice.

    So if somebody less accomplished thinks they are duplicating the work of a master, they frequently don’t even understand how far off the mark they are.

  22. Carl D says:

    Hey Guy

    “None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.”

    –Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Cheers

    Carl

  23. Greg Walker says:

    I personally do put different values on different photographs, depending on how unique I believe the perspective is. If it’s a shot of a waterfall that I know has been photographed to death, I will still do my best to find a unique angle in good light to shoot it,but I do so knowing I won’t feel particularly attached to it. I may like it very much and be proud of it, but because it’s not a particularly original approach I would not include it among my best or most cherished. Those images that I feel the most strongly about (and often aren’t commented on by the average viewer as much as the “iconic” shot) are the intimate images based on design, with thoughtfulness and care given to every element in the frame. This could even be of an iconic location, but it’s an extrapolation of that location or icon that makes it mine,seeing the picture within the picture. It could be duplicated, but it would be far less likely that it would be and would take a photographer with more skill that probably isn’t looking to make copies anyway.

    I certainly believe that nature photography is art, but there is a limitation of the medium I think that makes it distinct from comparison to painters. If Gauguin and Van Gogh approached the same sunflower as previously mentioned, of course they would be different. The painter, while perhaps choosing at least a somewhat representational style, is free to depict the sunflower in a way only limited by his or her imagination. A style is developed over time that will be reflected. Picasso’s sunflower might not even be recognized as a sunflower at all. Photographers too have styles, but the photograph will be at some level literally a sunflower. Imagination can be used in how to frame the sunflower, or digital manipulation can further personalize the image, but the imagination of the photographer is limited by the literal nature of the camera.

    I’m not suggesting that painting is a superior medium. I do think that nature photographers have to work harder to do something truly original.

  24. Bob: it’s up for debate as to how far the music analogy can be taken and I do appreciate your point, but I disagree (surprisingly enough!) that I did so. Symphonies are just one type of classical music, as landscapes are one genre of photography. Or, within landscape photography, the the desert Southwest is one category of images. There’s plenty of room for continuing the analogy along those lines if you’re so inclined, and I think the idea was clear enough.

    I do, however, take issue with your starving artist comment. Can you seriously tell me of any struggling photographer (and I am certainly one of those) in the US /Canada / Europe who is literally in clear and present danger of starving to death? Because if you can – and I don’t mean juggling the bills, or needing to sell a few extra lenses to pay for something, I mean literally dying of malnutrition as Mozart did – then I will send them a check. Immediately. And I suspect I won’t be the only one.

    There is a vast difference between trying to start a business or keep it going in tough economic times, and starving to death. It’s really quite distressing that you’re trying to equate the need for a second income stream (which we can all find, somehow, if things are desperate enough) with actual life and death extremity. If those two situations are so similar in your mind, then with all due respect I think you’re the one who’s kidding himself. Hopefully you were just indulging in some hyperbole…

    More good comments, folks – thanks for a great post, Guy!

  25. Anil Rao says:

    A very interesting post, Guy. I agree with almost everything, except perhaps the sentiment expressed in the following paragraph.

    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?

    Do you feel that if the signature was on the print itself it would somehow elevate the work to a higher level?

  26. Bob Fisher says:

    Well, Moira, the ‘starving artist’ idea has rarely been conceived as literally as one actually starving to death. It’s not just photographers either. It’s any type of artist. If someone is having to sell gear in pursuit of their art then I’d say that puts them into the ‘starving artist’ category. They’re not able to fully support themselves with their art. If they didn’t sell those lenses then perhaps they would truly be ‘starving to death’. A more practical definition would be appropriate.

    There was a story in the news a few years ago about a musician here in Canada who was a Juno winner (our equivalent to the Grammy Awards) who had to resort to busking in a Toronto subway station. A winner of an internationally recognised music award and was still, effectively, begging to eke out a living.

    Yes, symphonies are but one type of musical composition. So we could go on having concertos and sonatas. Even isolating to, as an example, landscape as one genre within photography is, I think, carrying the analogy too far. Limiting the analogy a bit then if it’s accepted that as a result of excellent darkroom skill and good promotion, Adams can be considered the father of landscape photography then no one, including the owner of this site and writer of this blog Mr. Tal, could engage in landscape photography. Still not an overly pragmatic argument. But I suspsect we will continue to disagree and it would probably be best to let others in on the debate rather than hogging it all to ourselves so we’ll agree to disagree and leave it at that. ;)

  27. Interesting discussion. Especially about the signing of work. All of my silver prints made in the wetdarkroom are signed with a silver pen. But I admit I dont like my handwriting and always worry about taking away from the image as well.
    When I did an intensive with Jack welpott, he used a technique on his fiber based paper and on the white border surrounding the image he used an eraser to make the paper easier to sign with a pencil and it looks wonderful.
    I know a lot of people in the past have signed on the back but with dry mounting that seems a waste? Jack told me that signing on the matt doesnt make any sense because the matt is not the art and the piece could be taken out.
    Which brings me to a discussion I was in on not too long ago about digital signatures? I am not really into that idea, it feels more like a watermark???

  28. Carl D says:

    Hey Folks,

    Landscape photography is a subject based criteria. An equivalent in music might ‘sad songs’ or ‘protest songs’. What’s interesting is that we imagine we can draw some kind of delineation between photographers taking photos of mountains and photographers taking photos of some other subject, and then compare it to a style of music composition based largely on form – structure and style.

    Photography is not performance art. If someone here can sell tickets to watch their next photo shoot, I’ll be impressed.

    Cheers

    Carl

  29. Guy,

    Interesting as alwyas, but I can’t seem to get this thought out of my head since reading this post –

    Parody is the highest form of flattery.

  30. Jay Goodrich says:

    Great points as usual Guy. I absolutely love the image. I am going to need to visit you next spring to find some badland color.

  31. Guy, you have again written a well-considered pertinent post. The opinion that any image that is copyable is not art will ultimately play out in overly-dramatic, affected work. If you look at a lot of Philip Hyde’s work you may notice that it is the most copied work in photography. Dad was often the first to capture many significant locations in color. Though he purposely chose unusual or hard-to-reach tripod positions, many of those after him somehow still came up with the same framing. Philip Hyde’s style is widely acknowledged to have influenced a generation of photographers. While the photographers of that generation are still working, I believe that Galen Rowell influenced the current generation of photographers dominating the internet now. All you have to do is compare the images to see it. Galen Rowell wrote a lot about photography, yet his photographs, because of their difficult accessibility and often dramatic lighting or unique conditions, are much less copyable. The irony is that Galen Rowell himself did not consider his photography art for years, and even later on sort of decried the idea. Much of Philip Hyde’s work on the other hand was documentary, though that does not necessarily make it any less artistic. Philip Hyde was interested in capturing the land “AS IT WAS” not turning it into a work of art by imposing his own sensibilities on it. Though he left behind the notions of his training with Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minor White, he could not help but compose photographs with powerful lines, forms, patterns and other artistic structural elements, evident in any visual fine art. Any photographer who presumes to consider himself an artist would do well to study the history of art to notice how often the same themes recur as a newer master incorporated elements of a previous work. Photography is the only visual art, where the creators of the art continually are up in arms with each other for “copying,” and necessarily so. In other visual arts it is considered an honor, but in photography, there are so many amateurs who believe that just because they made a photograph from the same position with the same equipment, they captured the same image. Usually it is inferior in some way: not quite as much sheen on the desert varnish or the light is not quite the same or some other flaw is evident that does not honor the original photograph but degrades it. The line of thinking you refer to from the forum you read may have stemmed from the knowledge that in the old days of art, it took a high level of mastery to copy or even partially emulate a great masterpiece. This is why various masters made a practice of honoring the greats who came before them by taking their themes and repeating them or borrowing from them in some way. Today, with the advances in cameras and processing technology, just about anyone can go out and equal what took early photographers a great deal of skill to capture. This does not decrease the artistic value of the early work. Ultimately it is a compliment to the pioneer landscape photographers for newer photographers to photograph the same locations and similar subject matter, but as Guy has emphasized here and before, come up with your own framing, create your own vision, do something unique, and don’t justify going around copying other great photographs by saying they were not art in the first place. That is just plain unimaginative and unprofessional.

  32. Steve Sieren says:

    I’m that photographer that said the quote on facebook.

    “A landscape photographers best work will always be something that can not be duplicated by another professional, everything else is just practice.”

    Guy, I think you have misconstrued what I mentioned into something it is not. As landscape photographers we copy, copy, copy, I doubt there is anyone out there who hasn’t done it once. In the end when we are done and unable to create new art are rarest work will be valued the most just like baseball cards. The rare ones are the ones that hold value, we should value are rarest work. Every photographer has a piece of work that can not be duplicated. Students practice by mimicking their mentors. This is the way I learned to create art but I value my own art the most that was not created by an attempt to duplicate another photographer. Every photographer is free to let go of their art of copying state and return to it whenever he or she pleases.

  33. Bob Fisher says:

    As a follow up on this, I’ll share an experience I had this past weekend.

    I was participating in an art show. There were a few other photographers in the show as well. I’d gone around early in the first day to take a look at other people’s booths to see what variety of art and artisans were in the show. Stopped by one photographer’s display and chatted for a few minutes. Later in the second day, he came to my booth and as we were talking he was looking through some of the prints I had for sale. There were a few of old cars. He looks at them and says ‘hey, I’ve got that same shot only of a blue car’ and ‘I’ve got that one too, only of a red car’. He showed them to me on his iPhone. The two of us had taken almost identical shots of the same model cars just in opposite colours (mine were red and blue to his blue and red). Two people, never having met before, never having been aware of the other or the other’s photography, living hours apart had basically the same shots.

    I wonder if, in many cases, it’s not so much a matter of copying or trying to copy (I saw your follow up Guy in which you expanded on what you were referring to by copying); but rather whether there just aren’t (m)any original ideas left. I was in a gallery last summer looking at some work of a Canadian photographer who prints large images on metal. The gallery had a catalogue of some of his other work. Looking through the catalogue, I saw some shots that were eerily similar to some I’d taken earlier in the day and also had planned to print on metal.

    Maybe we all just think alike.