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Imitation Isn't Always The Sincerest Form Of Flattery

Being inspirational to others can be both flattering and awarding but when inspiration turns into imitation, it can stir up a whole host of different emotions.

| Soapbox

We all look and admire other photographer's work and more of then than not, draw inspiration from what they're doing to see how we can create a similar look, style, feel... etc. in our own work. However, you probably would never go as far as directly copying someone else's work mainly because it could really upset or even anger the photographer whose work you admire so much, you decided to copy it prop for prop, pose for pose.


Flattery Vs Imitation 

Unfortunately, there are those who don't think so considerately and as a result, there are photographers who often find that imitation isn't always the sincerest form of flattery and as one photographer who recently found himself in this exact situation said, it can often leave you completely lost for words. 

Joel Robison is the photographer who was left speechless when he discovered someone copying his images. In fact, he was actually left questioning if the work was actually his, just with a few extra filters applied. 

"From the lighting to the props, to the locations, to the posing and even down to my signature flat cap hat that I often wear in photos, it was all there," said Joel. "Plus, the very next day I ended up finding another photographer on Facebook had been very cleanly, removing me out of my own images and putting himself in as a replacement... Again, I was totally at a loss."

Take a look at Joel's blog to see some of the images. 


The Internet Doesn't Make It Free 

Some may also argue that Joel doesn't do enough to protect his images with him openly admitting he posts work online without watermarks but does that give someone else the right to take / copy is work for this reason alone? 

"Being inspired by another artist is not bad, wanting to create something that you like to see isn’t bad, and even using other people’s work as a motivation for your own isn’t necessarily bad. Many of us have inspiration boards, favourite images we’re inspired by and so on. When that crosses into complete copying and theft, it's disrespectful not only to the original artist but also continues an attitude of 'it’s on the internet, so it must be mine to take',” said Joel. 


It's An Ongoing Debate 

Joel isn't the first and probably won't be the last to find himself in this position. You only have to look in ePHOTOzine's forums at a post from late last year to see even one of our own members, Syren, faced a similar problem with an image (shown below) from her portfolio that quickly went viral. 

Syren wrote: "Concepts are fairly fluid by nature but nine times out of ten it's always been done before in one way shape or form. People take inspiration from others work, it sparks ideas and twists of their own and that, in my eyes is a good thing. 

But what about when someone copies your work/take/idea a little too closely and claims it as their own? Is it just a case of being the grown up and thinking: 'meh' flattery?"

To some extent, imitation can be rather flattering however, when there's no attribution to the original photographer, a link to their portfolio or even a quick  'thank you' for them, it can sting. 

"I certainly don’t get upset when up and coming photographers are inspired by my work and post their interpretations with a link back to my work. I’ve been inspired by other artists and have interpreted their style in my work, and always make a point to let it be known that inspiration came from another source. This imitation stops being flattering when there’s no attribution to the original creator," said Joel. 


Imitation Isn't Always The Sincerest Form Of Flattery : Outside influences project Fashion edition part 2

Outside influences project Fashion edition part 2 - Syren


What To Do? 

So, what should / can you do if you find yourself in this position? Well, as Syren said, you can put on your big girl / boy pants and smile at the fact that someone admires your work so much they too want to create it or you can do as Joel did and reach out to the photographer in question. 

"Both of them replied, and both replied with very similar attitudes. The first, denied ever having seen my work or knowing anything about me. After I sent him links of the original photos that he had copied, he replied with a generic “there’s lots of pictures on the internet that I like” and then stopped replying. The second person was upset at me that I wasn’t willing to supply him with “artistic backgrounds” for him to share with his friends. An hour after our conversation in which I told him it wasn’t respectful, he posted another one. After another round of explanations, I reported him for copyright violation on Facebook and the images were removed. (thank you Facebook for standing up for creators of content)," said Joel.


Is Anything Original Anymore? 

Of course, in a World where it's growing ever easier to share, search for and access images, it does become increasingly harder to come up with an original concept or idea that's not already been done before. 

"Even we think we have succeeded, it's often the case that we are simply unaware of being second," said keithh in the forum post Syren started. 

You only have to take a quick glance at the ePHOTOzine gallery to see an abundance of misty water beach scenes as well as images of birds and butterflies all of which are captured in very similar ways. However, the point I think Joel's trying to make is that begin inspired by others and creating your own interpretation of that is great but blatantly copying or even taking someone else's work and using it in your own is not really fair. Plus, people need to realise just because it's on the internet doesn't mean it's free to use, too. 

We'll leave you with one last thought-provoking line from Joel where he said: "We as artists need to continue to support each other by fostering creativity not blurring the lines of imitation."


Share Your Thoughts

Do you have a similar experience to share or just want to comment on the flattery vs imitation debate? Comments welcomed below. 


(Via Joel Robison

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