First 4×5 Pic and a Weird Surprise

The Wonderful Old World of Polaroid

So this is going to be a bit of a hodge-podge post (you’re forewarned).

First, the image above is the first photograph I’ve officially taken with the 4×5 field camera (yes!  it is out of the box!).  The couple featured are our relatives from Belgium.  They were kind enough to let me snap this image of them relaxing on the deck at Aurum Lodge.  The image was taken on expired Polaroid 100 instant film.  Amazingly, despite being VERY expired, the chemicals aren’t all dried up.  I love the yellow cast–sort of like a built-in retro look.  I have grand plans to make some still lifes of retro things (like old juke boxes, junked cars, glass pop bottles…) so that I work with the tint and development peculiarities of the film.  So cool.  Stay tuned….

Now for the weird surprise.

I’ve taken my own advice to study other art forms in order to be a better photographer and enrolled in a community painting club.  The other night, while scrabbling away at a sketch, I glanced over at the artist sitting next to me and received quite a jolt!

She was painting from a photograph of mine!!

At first I thought it was Darwin’s image as she had folded the paper to form a new framing.  But then I meandered over and told her I recognized the image and she said she had gotten the image from the 2010 Panorama Calendar put out by Firefly (there’s an entire story on this company and draggy-feet on the way to pay-day, but perhaps I should save for a Rant the poor track record of publishers for paying up).  So here’s the original image (squished small as it is a panorama):

Horsecreek Road

“I hope you don’t mind….” was her offering at being found-out painting from another artist’s work.  And here is the question.  I didn’t mind in this case (even if she plans to sell her work later), but are there ethical considerations here?  If a photograph is published in a calendar, should artists seek permission from the photographer (whose name is listed on the calendar) before making a new art work from that image?  Or is that image somehow in the public domain and up for grabs?  Perhaps an acknowledgement of some kind, like a reference to the original photographer, would suffice?

Guy Tal has expressed some thoughtful comments on a similar theme in his web journal.  I think that, just because something is easy (i.e. being inspired to create your own art from another artists’ works) doesn’t mean some acknowledgement isn’t due.  For the record, when I studied art in high school, our art teacher always advised noting on the back of your piece the name of the original work that inspired your interpretation by writing “After ‘Starry Night’ by Vincent van Gogh”, for example.

A good idea, I think, for all of us artists.


~ by Samantha on September 17, 2009.

One Response to “First 4×5 Pic and a Weird Surprise”

  1. Interesting blog entry Samantha. My understanding is that derivative works do not violate copyrights in any way. Artist are free to use whatever source as inspiration they want without the legal requirement to share or compensate their source. That said, while the legal issues are well established the ethics are a totally personal matter.

    If your image is duplicated, as is and sold for income it violates your copyright but nothing is stopping another photographer from going to the same spot in similar conditions and taking their own picture. I have heard stories of photographers cutting down trees or digging up plants to keep others from capturing the same image. Retaking an image you admire from another photographers work for the purpose of selling that image is not ethical in my opinion but it is not illegal.

    That said, I encourage entry level photographers to try and reproduce an image they admire from a famous photographer for educational purposes ONLY. The exercise is a great learning experience and the student will learn how meticulous the compositional process is and gain a much better appreciation for that photographers work. The next step is obvious, how would they improve the image and make it their own.

    Guy is a great photographer and makes a valid point, but there is another side, our vision (or personal style) is a unique mixture of our experiences both visual and emotional. I am continually amazed that several photographers can capture the same scene (at the same time) and how different the final images look. This is no different than other free art forms including painting, improvisational jazz music, writing, etc. They are all derivative works which expand on the experiences of the artist. It is simply understood and that is the creative process. Wether we admit it or not everything we do is a derivative work based on our experiences.

    I recently had the opportunity to view one of the most complete collections of original Ansel Adams prints and was amazed at how familiar the compositions were. We see them reproduced by ALL landscape photographers. Ansel Adams was very generous with sharing his techniques, compositional strategies and made specific examples of many of his greatest images for the sake of educating other photographers. He was in many ways the greatest advocate and mentor for landscape photographer we have had.

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