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Can photographers be plagiarists? Very interesting slide show from… - Luke McGuff

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February 8th, 2007


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11:46 am
Can photographers be plagiarists?

Very interesting slide show from Slate.com. Some architectural photographs (such as the Nanpu Bridge in Shanghai, or the Flatiron building viewed from Madison Square Park) are going to be similar in tone and reference. Photographers also photograph similar subjects, whether consciously or not. The book The Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer looks at the history of photography from this vantage point: Examining, for instance, photographs of blind street musicians through time, from the 19th century forward.

At what point does a work of art stop being a reference and become plagiarism? If someone were to take pictures of cranes or graffiti using similar techniques to mine, I'd be all for it (these subjects lend themselves to these techniques so readily I'm surprised no one else is doing it). Whether I'm referencing or plagiarizing graffiti is a more difficult question, and is one of the reasons I've been taking more pictures of cranes recently. (Also, cranes don't send me snotty emails asking if I'm going to cut them in on the profits.)

ETA: Here is a link to a YouTube video (4:31) via chr0me_kitten that I think touches on the same subject.

A further edit: From apostle_of_eris comes this link, The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem

(12 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:kijjohnson
Date:February 8th, 2007 08:06 pm (UTC)
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The article we discussed Tuesday is "On the Rights of Molotov Man: Appropriation and the Art of Context" by Joy Garnett and Susan Meiselas, in the February Harper's. Not quite the same issue, but very cool -- an artist and the photographer she draws from discuss the isolation of an image from context and what that does to the message; also rights, etc.
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From:holyoutlaw
Date:February 8th, 2007 09:10 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for that! It's not online yet, I'll actually have to sully my fingers with contact with paper. Oh, how unsanitary!
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From:maryread
Date:February 10th, 2007 05:01 am (UTC)
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Thanks for this reference. Made me go out and buy the new Harper's, which was a favor (and I even got out of the bookstore without buying anything else).
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From:maryread
Date:February 9th, 2007 05:28 am (UTC)
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As long as the snotty emailers don't have expensive lawyers, maybe you can hang onto your illgotten gains. A vast fortune I am sure. Do you lose a lot of sleep at night over it? That you have gone off to photograph the cranes instead shows you are ethically responsive to the issue, but the people who design the cranes might have a thing or two to say about your appropriation of their unique visions. Ya think? And what about the excess labor value to the people who actually assemble the cranes? Shouldn't they have a cut? I am watching with great curiosity how the copyright dealio is going to shake out across various media, but as dear old dad used to say, I'm not going to hang by my thumbs.

Thanks for the video link.
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From:maryread
Date:February 9th, 2007 05:53 am (UTC)
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Also thanks for the Slate thingy.

I read an interesting article in a painting magazine some time back about how painters of house portraits (some people like to paint architectural subjects) have to check out the architectural rights on the image. It's one thing if the owners ask you to paint them a picture of their house, but without a contract and their permission to use it you might just be asking for the lawyers to call! Property rights on cultural stuff has all gone pretty wonky the last few decades. Really old stuff is in the public domain. Unless someone publishes it, then they have copyright. Uh. Yeah.

The other thing is that the U.S. has separate copyright laws from the rest of the world. We tend to forget that. Except for when it's a case of piracy across international borders...

Couple years ago I actually saw a photograph of a Diego Rivera mural displayed at an art show labeled as the original work of the photographer. Not part of an album or series, just the one shot. And it was not a very good photograph IMNSHO. Yeah, nice mural, I said, isn't that Diego Rivera?
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From:holyoutlaw
Date:February 9th, 2007 06:12 am (UTC)
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The woman in the Slate slide show who takes photos of Walker Evans photos was new to me. But there is a photographer who takes pictures of Marlboro ads from the 70s or so and reproduces them much larger. He's very popular these days.

I'm all for mashups, appropriations, etc. I wonder how I'll feel though if the shoe is on the other foot someday. Hah!
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From:maryread
Date:February 9th, 2007 06:05 pm (UTC)
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I thot that was a mock up of a Walker Evans pose format & lighting? must have misunderstood. If it's copystand work, that's hard to take seriously. I mustn't be so serious...

It's hard to imagine reproducing Marlboro ads bigger than a billboard tho. It's been done! We had a neighbor when I was a kid who used to take billboard ads and cut out elements of them and mount them on fiberboard like giant jigsaw pieces. You could see the big ol halftone dots. And hanging in yr living room, how cool was that. Not rectangles!
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From:holyoutlaw
Date:February 9th, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
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It looks to me, from the copy in the Slate slideshow, that the woman was taking photos of Walker Evans photos.

I wasn't clear about the Marlboro ads -- the photos were of magazine ads.
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From:apostle_of_eris
Date:February 9th, 2007 03:18 pm (UTC)
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Of course a photographer can plagiarize. Why not?
In real life, of course, there are several uncertainties in the boundary, but a fuzzy line still has two sides. Right here on LJ, the courtesies and protocols of taking and reusing those little thumbnail illos are imprecise.

This is not to address the issue of plagiarism itself. There's a big fancy biography illustrated with photographs taken by my brother, which was published without even his knowledge, much less permission, much less reimbursement.

Culturally, I expect that everyone reading this already knows that we are having a real problem with an appropriation of the commons situation. This essay just came into my view a couple of days ago. The Ecstasy of Influence (Harpers.org)

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From:holyoutlaw
Date:February 9th, 2007 05:49 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for that link. I've started reading it but it will take some time.

From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 9th, 2007 10:08 pm (UTC)

Finicky Nitpick

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The Flatiron Building is best viewed from Madison Square Park (Central Park is 36 blocks north).

(Note on why I shoot sculpture excised as pretentious twaddle. Hope you're well.)

--
D.
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From:holyoutlaw
Date:February 9th, 2007 11:22 pm (UTC)

Re: Finicky Nitpick

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Thank you for the correction, which I have placed into the text.

And I am well, as well.

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