PetaPixel

It’s All Been Done, Where Do We Go From Here?

Last year I received an email from a photographer acquaintance about some images I had recently shot. I had met this photographer a couple times at a few photography functions and was Facebook friends with him, but I didn’t really know this person well… who really knows all their Facebook friends these days?

In the email, he pointed out there were many similarities between my images and some images he shot a year earlier. He went on the say that he was currently investing a considerable amount of money into promoting his photo series as well as entering the photos into contests. His images were of cookies shot on a black background and the images I made were of cookies shot on white and black backgrounds. He concluded the email by asking me not to publish my series of photos on my website or in my portfolio so that there would be no confusion over ownership of these images.

Initially I was very angry when I read his email: What right did he have to tell me what I should do with pictures I shot having never seen his images first? After calming down, I started writing a response making sure to put a good amount of thought into the message before sending it. Here was my response:

Dear John Doe,

You have no right whatsoever to tell me what I can do with my images and I am very surprised that you would email me and demand that I not to use my images. I’m sorry to tell you, but you weren’t the first person to shoot pictures of cookies on a black background. I don’t want to come off as a jerk, but put yourself in my position: if someone emailed you saying you should not use some pictures you took, you wouldn’t say, “Yea, sure, no problem”, you would say, “No Way!”.

Being totally honest, I hadn’t seen your cookie shots until just now when you emailed me. If you must know, the lighting inspiration came from a shot of I saw years ago of cookies on a white background by another artist. The project progressed to shooting on black since I had done similar lighting on a job I did early last year and I felt the lighting would work well for this. It was a totally organic creative process as I’m sure it was for you when you did your cookie series. I felt the shots on black needed to be contrasted with shots on white for the layout to have the most impact in the body of my work.

Next week when I take pictures of a dress shirt on a white background are you going to email me saying I stole that idea from you as well? How about when I shoot smudges and breakups of cosmetics on a white background? Everything has been shot before. Beyond that, I feel my images are very different from yours and I couldn’t see how anybody would possibly confuse you and me as photographers since we generally shoot totally different things.

For your information, I shot those cookie shots last Thursday and sent out a emailer that very evening with the shots. If they work in a particular edit they will be in my portfolio, and will most likely go on my new website when it re-launches next month. I’m not planning a mailer with these images, but maybe in the future.

Best,

Steve

Some photographers believe that their images are completely unique and different, but are they really? Do they really have no resemblance to any photo, painting, or illustration made prior? The same thing could be asked about other disciplines such as plays, movies, music, and literature. I could tell you for a fact that I’m not the first person to write about the idea that everything has been done before, not even close to the first. This is a topic which has been brought up by hundreds of authors in books, blogs, and other writings about photography and other forms of art for years. Does my unique point of view on this subject make it different and possibly more interesting than someone else’s point of view in the past? Could it be possible that my words may resonate better in the context I am writing them?

If I visit a huge micro stock photography website like Shutterstock or iStockphoto and search for pictures of red apples, I will find thousands of images of red apples. Does this mean I shouldn’t take pictures of red apples? The same could be said for pictures of cookies. There are thousands of images of cookies on stock websites and they are constantly adding more. Are they only adding pictures of newly invented cookies, or are they still adding pictures of chocolate chip cookies even though they already have thousands? I say, all the above.

I find it’s best to accept from the outset that all the pictures I’ll take have most likely been taken before in one form or another. Just because thousands of photographers have taken pictures of red apples, no one can say that it’s impossible for me to also take a great or interesting picture of red apples. Artists have always borrowed from their predecessors and recreated similar works time and time again. If something in the world inspires me to take a picture, even knowing the seed may have been planted by the work of another, I will still take that picture. I feel the only point of importance is where I take that idea and what effect applying my point of view and my specific time in history will have on the newly created image.


About the author: Steve Giralt is a NYC-based photographer who was selected in 2005 by PDN magazine as one of 30 emerging photographers to watch. Visit his website here. This post was originally published here.


 
  • Jeremy Jeziorski

    I think your response was appropriate. I think interactions like this are springing out of the fact that photography (as a career pursuit) is so ubiquitous now.

    Not that photography is incredibly unique from all of the other industries seeing the same revolution, but we’re all afraid of our jobs disappearing because everyone can buy a ‘nice’ camera for $500+ and all the photo education in the world is at our fingertips for free. Instagram and i-devices have turned pretty much everyone into an enthusiast, and with social networking, we’re all our own publicity machines.
    Really, we all just need to chill out and keep making kick-ass photos that we love and that challenge us as artists. The business end will sort itself out.

  • Madeline

    Wow. Overreaction? Yeah. I can see why you would want to point out that no, you’re not going to withhold images, but it was totally uncalled for to try to make the other person feel stupid.

  • novo2k5

    After reading the first line of the email, it may be too late to say that you don’t want to come off as a jerk. Yes, point taken, no one has the right to tell you what to do with your pictures. Hopefully they will stand out in a line-up of stock photos. Best of luck with that

  • Jason Banks

    It is quote proper to make the other person feel stupid, because it was stupidity in the first place to tell another that they should not use their photos of cookies. If people would not do stupid things in the first place, others would not lose their shit over it.

  • MD

    Implying that all photographers are righteous assholes is probably an activity best reserved for websites not frequented exclusively by photography enthusiasts…you’re not going to win many fans here with a comment like that. Just a thought.

  • http://twitter.com/OfficialDan Dan Howard

    as the old saying goes “There’s nothing new under the sun”….

    However… Personally… If I see another late evening, slow shutter shot of a coastline with smokey water I may kill myself.

  • http://edgeofblur.tumblr.com kodiak xyza

    « and with social networking, we’re all our own publicity machines. »

    even worse, is that social networks and comment-based sites do not offer a proper adjustments of how the achieved result is truly insignificant to the outside world — it could mean lots to ourselves and pursuits, but that is all.

    granted, there is a market for photographs from amateur and hobbyist, but the lack of education (of the photographer *and* audience), coupled with vapid adulation on social networks increases the chances of attitudes like the one in this article.

  • http://edgeofblur.tumblr.com kodiak xyza

    « and with social networking, we’re all our own publicity machines. »

    even worse, is that social networks and comment-based sites do not offer a proper adjustments of how the achieved result is truly insignificant to the outside world — it could mean lots to ourselves and pursuits, but that is all.

    granted, there is a market for photographs from amateur and hobbyist, but the lack of education (of the photographer *and* audience), coupled with vapid adulation on social networks increases the chances of attitudes like the one in this article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.worster Steven Alan Worster

    Ok, that’s all interesting and all, but how did those cookies taste?

  • http://www.facebook.com/xsportseeker Renato Murakami

    Well, on the other hand, a very polite and neutral reply could’ve issued the guy to continue insisting on the ridiculous request and continue doing it in similar cases…

  • http://www.facebook.com/xsportseeker Renato Murakami

    A good series to watch regarding this, specially the conclusions:
    https://vimeo.com/14912890

  • http://twitter.com/PaulaRRobinson1 Paula R. Robinson

    Ok, that’s all interesting and all, but how did those cookies taste? http://FoxGetPositionWork.blogspot.com

  • pryere

    They are MY cookies. (Biscuits).

  • http://ronbailey.net ronbailey

    People who make stupid and/or ridiculous requests hardly deserve my (or anyone else’s) forbearance. The very idea of handling morons with kid gloves is one huge reason the marketplace of ideas is so full of idiotic people – there is no disincentive to not think before you speak. Steve handled things perfectly.

  • jdm8

    What if the other person made a very stupid request, such as claiming ownership of a non-original idea and demanding control over someone else’s work?

  • Nik

    He should be more angry that he included the following error: “…demand that I not to use my images.”
    JOKES! *ducks for cover*

  • Eric Balaire

    Pointless article…I wouldn’t even bother answering this kind of request.