“Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattering, it’s the sincerest form of learning” – G. B. Shaw. This is one of the quotes that open Sean Tucker’s latest video, and I find it to be a perfect description of the importance of imitation. Imitating other artists is an essential process of learning and growing. We’ve all done it, and maybe we still do. But when is it time to stop? In this video, Sean discusses imitation and its importance, but also innovation and the time when it should take over.
Photographer Ed Verosky admits in the opening line of this video that he’s not a creative genius. But then, very few of us are. Just coming up with something creative out of thin air isn’t easy. We need inspiration. And I’m not suggesting we copy. Just something that inspires us, gets us thinking and starts those creative juices flowing.
Different things inspire different people. What might inspire me may not inspire you, and vice versa. For me, it’s often movies and music, but I can be inspired by all sorts of things going on around me. Ed talks about what inspires him in this video. Maybe it’ll give you some ideas you hadn’t considered.
Whose image is it anyway? When does inspiration or imitation of a landscape photo cross the line or go too far?
Recently a few things came up that makes me ask if or when does the idea of copying someone else’s photo go too far, or is it just a form of flattery derived from a source of inspiration via the route of imitation? In the commercial photography world, this can have an impact in real dollars and sense (yes, that’s the word I meant to use), especially if you get caught deliberately copying someone else’s work. This was brought up in a recent article on PetaPixel, When someone copies your photo for Commercial Purposes, where the question was raised whether someone who (may have) copied many elements of a photo went so far as to push the boundaries of what’s right and permissible or was it a violation of the original photographer’s copyright? When there are things like models, props, studio lights, camera angles, etc., that gives the court leeway in deciding what elements of an image are protected expressions of copyright. There is a poll on this article where more than 2/3rds or the respondents felt what was done was unethical.
A lot of us labor to be ‘original’ in our photography— but realize, everything in photography and life is a remix:
One of the biggest benefits I had studying history was this — understanding the root and origin of a lot of ideas which I once thought were ‘original.’
For example, I remember when I started to shoot street photography, I imitated Henri Cartier-Bresson. But then a lot of people said I was ‘copying’ him — which made me feel unoriginal. But when I started to study the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, I realized that a lot of his inspirations came from the surrealists, as well as Matisse, and the image which inspired him to start photography was a black and white photo of three boys playing by the water. Even his idea of ‘The Decisive Moment’ originated from a poem.
A year after being sued for allegedly copying its Air Jordan logo, Nike is now under fire for its latest shoes campaign starring FC Barcelona’s Neymar.
While one could usually think it might be a coincidence or argue the point of inspiration vs. imitation, it turns out both artists’ videos were referenced in Nike’s creative brief before the video was even created.