Photog Accuses PDN of Using a ‘Second-Rate’ Imitation on Their March Cover


In PDN’s March issue, the magazine highlighted Cade Martin’s impressive ad work that he had done recently for Tazo Tea and Starbucks. As the main feature, it’s only natural that one of those images ended up on the cover of the issue (pictured above). Not everyone, however, was as thrilled by Martin’s work as PDN.

Photographer Rodney Smith has covertly spoken out about the cover on his blog. In a post titled “The Real Thing,” he calls the image an imitation, and wonders why PDN would choose to applaud work that is, as he puts it, “by it’s [sic] very nature ‘second-rate.'”

Here’s the cover next to Smith’s “Real Thing”:


We say “covertly” because the post doesn’t actually mention PDN directly, although the connection is fairly obvious. Smith’s side of the story is that Martin’s image is a clear imitation of one of his. Anticipating PDN’s reply, he maintains that even with the multitude of content out there, imitation is not inevitable:

I realize that there is always much in life to imitate and the urge to do so is enormous, yet I also realize that to be original one has to look deep within themselves and find what no one else can copy, a very private voice.

Often this is difficult and painful and requires a self-awareness that many people do not have or want. But if one speaks honestly and to thine own self be true, they too may find a way to be their own real thing.

A closer look at Rodney Smith's "Real Thing"

A closer look at Rodney Smith’s photograph

Mentioned directly or not, the magazine’s editors didn’t hesitate to respond to the accusations in a post of their own. After explaining that Smith reached out to them privately via e-mail, they go on to say that, in our image flooded world, there really is no such thing as pure originality in photography:

Inventing new photographic material whole cloth, without reference or regard to the models of the past – from Rembrandt to the latest photography show – is nearly impossible in photography, and it would produce aridly self-referential work

Even though nobody is threatening law suits, the back and forth between PDN and Smith has still managed to stir up an interesting conversation amongst photographers: where does one draw the line between inspiration (or even imitation) and infringement?

It’s not a new debate — Sony was allowed to recreate a photo by photographer Donald Harney for their movie, while Andy Baio’s 8-bit tribute to Miles Davis never made it to court — but this most recent case has certainly raised the question once again. We’d love to hear your take.

Rodney Smith Scolds PDN About March Cover Image [PDN Pulse via A Photo Editor]

  • Jeff Bridges

    They are both sort of lame images.

  • Jack

    Photog’s shot is more interesting, but he can hardly claim he invented the ‘hot chicks with teapots’ genre.

  • chphotovideo

    is it just me or does anyone else like the PDN version better??

  • Aleksandar Aleksić

    in few years you will not be allowed to make a photosession with a model because someone else already did that… “whoa, you were shooting with your model who is a human bean? well, long time before you i was shooting a model who, apparently, happens to be a human being so that means you are stealing my idea…”

    i mean, wtf is going on with this world… too many a**holes are here…

    btw, sry for my english, probably i made a mistake or two.

  • Macauley Hopper

    Idea-Expression duality. Look it up. Smith can’t copyright his idea and Martin’s photograph is different enough that the courts would most likely rule in Martin’s favor.

  • DamianM

    The PDN cover is a more complete image for the use of color, which balanced the image unlike the accusers photograph contrasting brown and black, two colors that just don’t work together.

    Btw Its girls with tea cups.all of flickr and Lewis Carroll should sue both of them.

  • Rhian Campbell

    Second rate? More like one 1-Up

  • michaelp42

    Yep. Prefer the PDN version also.

  • Scott Verge

    If blown highlights and out of plumb verticle lines are superior I’ll take second rate any day. :P

  • Serhan Oksay

    ok the original idea comes from a drawing…

  • Paul Puiia

    I think I prefer the original. The overall structure of the image is less cluttered and seems more balanced. Plus, the color palate on the original is just great.

  • Forbs

    I was just thinking that. There’s plenty of shots out there that depict women in dresses in a Victorian setting. And countless Alice in Wonderland interpretations. Neither of these guys are that original.

  • Ivan

    My immediate objection as well! I prefer the PDN version, but honestly both do not deserve to make to a cover page anywhere.

  • Phrog

    Great idea, I am going to do one also, except instead of stairs or floor, I will put a table in frame. Original artistic content right?

  • Chris Blizzard

    I prefer the “second-rate” photo. And since the idea isn’t exactly that original, or even wild enough to be difficult to think of, does anyone know if the “copy-cat” had actually seen the other image?

  • Benicio Murray

    Everything is a remix. Everything has been done before.
    Some artists can be real bores.

  • DafOwen

    I like both.
    I think they’re sufficiently different to not be considered a direct copy.

    The fact that Rodney Smith calls the cover “second-rate” just reflects so badly on him – we all know there is no right or wrong in “Art” – only different perceptions. He just made himself out to be a bitchy diva.

  • Mark

    Much ado about nothing, IMO. Even though the second may be derivative, the two photos are substantially different. To me it mostly sounds like sour grapes from Smith because he didn’t make the cover.

  • Ronald

    Don’t worry about your english mate. I’d rather be a human bean than a human being anyway.

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  • John Fulton

    The PDN version reeks of an AD seeing the Rodney Smith version and deciding this is the concept. The original Smith-version is whimsical, fun and very well done. The other is, well, “second-rate”, as photographer Smith says.

  • Tony L.

    I do like the Rodney Smith’s image better. But he’s just sounding like a bitter photog that wished he got the gig for Tazo/Starbucks. Also, calling it a second rate image is just plain foolish! Any working commercial photographer knows that clients and agencies will always dictate the final image. Being that the image lacks the whimsy and madness, I can see the Art Directors/Clients say “yeah we need to make the image not look like she’s crazy for drinking all that tea, b/c we’re selling tea”

  • Aleksandar Aleksić

    haha, now i see what i wrote… well, beans are yummy! :)

  • Tesha(Keefer)Wheeler

    I like Smiths version better!

  • Tesha(Keefer)Wheeler

    I imagine myself enjoying tea the way Smith portrayed…sitting barefoot with simple attire and having fun, maybe even goofing off with the teapot on my head. That is totally the feel of enjoying tea that I want. NOT in a bulky dress on a set of stairs (not comfy at all!) looking pretentious. If thats their model and target audience of who should enjoy their tea, I’m not a fan…and I bet I am not alone. I think Starbucks/TAZO got this one all wrong.

  • sebo

    I believe both concepts are inspired from Alice in Wonderland so they both coppied Lewis Carroll :) jokes aside the images are two much alike…even if I can see the basic inspiration in the novel, still the PDN could have taken a slightly different aproach. Even the dress is arranged in the same way, and the position of the hands…c’mon. Inspiration is one thing. One on one reproduction is something else.

  • ripley

    When you wrote “human bean” I thought you were making a reference to the film Arriety, where they refer to people as human beans :p

  • Carin Basson

    Actually, it would be rather difficult to drink tea without holding the cup in your hand – but the PDN one is holding a saucer and the other one isn’t so they’re hands, body language and setting are different. The only similarities are the wide dress and teacups arranged around them – I would think Alice in Wonderland for both, but one goes for the Mad Hatter angle and the other for the prissy English girl :)

  • Kurt Gerber

    Both images are derivative. If Rodney did it first and Tazo hired Martin to copy the image, they are the guilty party. PDN should be careful to not put work on the cover that is such a direct copy of another’s work.