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Monday, May 23, 2011

More On Photographic Plagiarism

(l) Jason Florio for AARP (r) Matthew Mahon for Fast Company

If one writer steals another’s words it’s called plagiarism. If it happens at a magazine, a newspaper, during a speech, or anywhere it’s public, the plagiarizer is called out and usually loses his or her job. The company moves quickly to regain credibility.

Why is it wrong to steal someone's words, but not equally wrong to steal a photographer’s signature visual aesthetic? I can’t claim Hemingway’s words as my own, why should one photographer claim another’s work as their own, or be willing to copy it? For me the problem is both with photographers cannibalizing each other, and lazy (or worse) creatives (photo editors and art directors) who seem to have a strange view of right and wrong.

I bring this up again because there is more to tell about this issue--that Fast Company had hired photographer Matthew Mahon to shoot in the exact signature style of Jason Florio.

After my first post there was some back and forth with photographers on FB and in comments to the post. Some didn't think it was a big deal since it happens "all the time." One photographer said, "I thought it was irresponsible to point a finger at him without getting feedback from Fast Company. As it is now, everywhere that that Mahon guy goes, there's now a black cloud over him. That's all that anyone remembers. No matter the truth, "the Mahon guy ripped off someone else"; that's all that anyone remembers."

I don’t know if that’s true, but I had emailed the photographer, hoping to hear his side of the story—he never responded. I also emailed the agency he works for (Redux), and the photo editor of Fast Company (Leslie Dela-Vega). Marcel Saba of Redux asked me to speak with the magazine.

Leslie Dela-Vega emailed me back and said, "Just so you have all the facts, Matthew was directed to shoot with this background and this was in no way his idea. Thanks for your concern." (abbreviated for relevance)

I spoke with Florian Bachleda, the Creative Director of Fast Company after he spoke with Jason Florio (at Jason’s request). What Bachleda said was this: “We screwed up and got careless and sloppy. There was no intent to harm Jason intentionally. He’s good with us and we’re good with him. Hopefully we’ll be working on a project with him.”

I spoke in detail with Jason Florio and he wrote this:

"As photographers we want to be known for our voice, our vision..that is what makes us unique as artists and makes us not just mere widget makers.

So when I was told by a fellow photographer that a style and particular visual technique I am known for, (published globally, acquired by a museum, won awards for...)had been been directly copied for a magazine story, I felt gutted.

But hey, as artists we are influenced by and inspired by predecessors and peers. But, I also thought, what the hell is the point of creating a personal style when an art director/photo director can just tell another photographer to "copy this"?

Legally as photographers we don't have much to go on as far a recompense. In this instance, although the damage is done, I was able to get some insight and closure by talking directly with the photo and art team at Fast Company. They admitted that they had seen my work in Resource Magazine and directed the photographer to copy it.

One part of me was flattered and the other irate, but they put their hands up to appropriating the style and admitted for them it had been a quick visual solution for their story. They said they were unfamiliar with my work until this point. Now they are interested in working with me.....

So although I can't get Alan Dershowitz to represent me and sue for millions, there may be a silver lining in all of this by acquiring a new client."

I guess one of the dirty little secrets in the industry is that photographers are asked to copy other photographers, they agree to copy other photographers, and photo editors/art directors see nothing wrong with doing this.

Photographers fear being branded as troublemakers. Other bloggers have raised this issue when it applied to commercial or fine art photography, but this was the first time I was made aware of plagiarism as it relates to editorial photography.

There is a difference between “influenced by” and “copying of” and we all know it. We are all a sum total of everything that we experience, see and consume. But the whole point of being a creative person is to digest it all and come up with your own individual expression.

Picasso was influenced by Matisse. But you would never confuse the two.

As a former photo editor I am angered by that same lazy thinking. It’s not as if Fast Company asked Jason Florio to do the shoot, and because he was busy they had to go to someone else. And for the photographer to not propose an alternative that fit more squarely with his own style is sad. If you’re just going to regurgitate what you’ve seen, or copy what others do, what is the point?

For the photo industry to survive and thrive it is important not to cannibalize each other’s work. If getting a job is more important than putting your unique point of view out there I feel sorry for you. Why are you a photographer? If you’re in a creative industry be creative. Your integrity should not be for sale.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

What’s the Value of News Photos?

Someone recently posted a link on my Facebook page pointing to a humorous Slate piece called “Cats of War.” I figure it came from the articles written about the SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden, and how they brought a dog with them. But I didn’t have the the same reaction as others.

I did not find it funny at all. In fact, I wondered how Getty could sell news photos to Slate when they were going to be Photoshopping cats into the photos. Now Slate labeled the photos as “photo illustrations,” bit I was curious why Getty would allow that to happen.

In the days when I was a photo editor there was a sense that news photos were objects not to be played around with. In fact, before you used a news photo from an agency like Getty you asked where it had or had not appeared before. Doesn’t it devalue the photos now that people have seen them with cats added into the action?

One of the images is by Darren McCollester, and shot with night vision in either Iraq or Afghanistan (I believe). How do the Getty photographers feel about risking their lives for photographs that will be sold in order to be Photoshopped for a joke? That’s a photo that cannot ever be used again for a news story.

If it was a Chris Hondros photo would that be alright? Is it that the photos don’t matter to Getty, or the photographers, so they don’t care if cats are added to the photograph?

I emailed Pancho Bernasconi at Getty about this but have yet to hear back. I know that Getty has a lot to deal with, and is reeling from the death of Chris Hondros in Libya. But I do think someone needs to speak out about this, and someone else needs to answer. If I ever get a response I will report it here.

What do you think?

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Appropriating Another Photographer's Style

(l Jason Florio, r Matthew Mahon)

The question comes down to this: How can you justify ripping-off another photographer’s style? It has come to my attention that Redux photographer Matthew Mahon took Jason Florio’s well-known way of shooting portraits and copied it for a Fast Company shoot.

It seems to me to be a direct rip-off of Florio's way of shooting. All the more surprising since Jason Florio is a multi-award winning photographer, whose portraits and style is well known. His Gambia work has appeared on the cover of PDN, been awarded a Lucie and more. In fact, he was asked to use that specific style for the AARP shoot. Why does one photographer think they can just appropriate another photographer's visual style for their own?

I have posed the question to photographer Matthew Mahon and the Photo Editor of Fast Company as well as Marcel Saba of Redux (since the shoot is featured on their website and Mahon is one of their photographers), and will report any and all responses.

The full look at Jason's AARP

And Matthew's Fast Company

I’d be interested in knowing what you think.

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Some Thoughts on Recent Events

I had planned on writing more about Photolucida (and I will at a later date), but the deaths of Tim Hetherington & Chris Hondros in Libya threw me for a loop. Words are inadequate to express my feelings. There is no perspective to be had in their deaths. It is final and it is brutal. If you didn’t know them, know their work.

And now the death of Osama Bin Laden takes our attention in another direction. Should the president release a death photo or not? For me it doesn’t matter. I am not a fan of death porn. As a photo editor for many years I saw a lot of terrible images and I do not need to see more.

It seems to me that those who call for the photos to be released are people who won’t believe things even when faced with the truth. How else can you explain the Birthers? When Obama finally released his birth certificate they claimed it had been Photoshopped. What’s the say that wouldn’t be the case with the death photo of Bin Laden?

I am not someone who simply believes everything the government tells me, far from it. But I am willing to accept this. I don’t need more. And to be honest, in this day and age I’m not convinced the photo won’t show up somewhere at some time in the future. The fact that the mission to get Bin Laden stayed completely unknown until announced is amazing. Nothing seems to stay hidden for long anymore.

Since the deaths of Tim & Chris I have been thinking a lot about those who go to conflict zones to make their careers. I will be writing about that soon, as I worry that the danger and lack of protection is worse than ever, and I question the wisdom of it. But that will wait for a later date as well. So many things have pushed me away from my initial intent on writing here at Stellazine that I am re-evaluating what I write about and how frequently I do it.

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