Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.
Someone emailed this link:
and noted that it’s a very close resemblance to the French photographer’s series:
Which caused quite a stir a few years ago (it’s currently being shown in major art galleries in the US). The person who emailed us wrote: “It is of course quite possible that two like minded people come up with a similar idea at the same time, or within a recent time frame, but surely as an informed practitioner, you have a responsibility to do your research or at least credit the inspiration in some manner. Perhaps I’m being pathetic.”
Amanda and Suzanne:
Which came first the chicken or the egg? In this case we could say Sam Taylor-Wood. But who inspired Sam – Barbara Morgan (with an urban twist)? The links could be endless (as Michael Grecco points out below). Chris, Sam & Denis have all done work similar and all have made a success out of it.
We have both experienced copyright issues in our day of art buying and see it everyday in consulting. Example: An Art Director comes up with a concept and the photographer is hired to do the job – sometimes not aware of the original swipe or where it came from. I (Amanda) once had a job go through my department and the art buyer didn’t see the final until right before traffic/production was about to release the image – it was so identical to the comp (which was swiped) we ended up offering $30k to the photographer our AD swiped it from to be able to take it to print – it was that much of a copyright infringement.
So we asked Michael Grecco for his opinion on this matter.
Photographer Michael Grecco
For me, this issue brings up many visceral thoughts and emotions because not only am I a fan of the underlying images, but also know some of the photographers (other than Chris) who created them. The ads show a hooded figure jumping in a very industrial setting wearing jeans, sweats, and CAT Earthmovers Footwear.
I write this from two perspectives: one, how far should an artist go when mimicking, or borrowing ideas from other artists. Ultimately what is their responsibility to make an idea their own. Two, what is the responsibility of art directors and creative directors in educating their clients about a comp, and how it should be used to begin the creative process, not conclude it.
I would like to first look at the origin of the idea of jumping in photographs since that is the concept of the images and put it in a modern context. As a photographer, we all look for inspiration in everything around us, including other images by other shooters. As a kid, I was always a fan of the work of Philipe Halsman and his series of jumping portraits. Halsman himself (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippe_Halsman) had a fascinating life and was a regular contributor to Life Magazine. I first came across his work as a kid, when I used to take out the Time Life books on photography as a long term “loan.” His work was prominent, and impressive, leaving a lasting impression on my subconscious. He is best known for the image of Salvador Dali jumping with water traveling through the frame and a cat flying through the air.
As an artist, though, when we get inspiration we have to then make it our own. I will borrow a seed of an idea, and then see where that creative road takes me. If I am shooting for a client, hopefully I have the room to take the image to a very personal place, a place that would be my work, and not that of the borrowed image. This should happen naturally, the pull of your own vision influences you to make “taste” decisions when creating an image that should in theory transcend the underlying image, no matter how good it is. The artist should be chosen for that reason, they should bring something more to the project, otherwise hire the original artist of the work or if they are dead, make it an homage.
Famous Dali Atomicus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Salvador_Dali_A_%28Dali_Atomicus%29_09633u.jpg
This leads me to the trail of creativity that created the CAT ads. In each case, each artist has put their “physic” perspective and artistic touches to these concepts. The modern seed for this idea is the work of Sam Taylor Woods, a British artist, who has taken the idea of jumping and made it personal, literally. She shoots self portraits of herself floating through space, separated from the Earth, She calls the series “Suspended.” The images evoke a sense of freedom, of life and death and weightlessness. There is an ephemeral quality I can only believe is inspired by the artists’ experience surviving two bouts of cancer.
The next set of images I feel are a variation and an interpretation of Sam’s conceptual theme. Let me add here that themes or concepts cannot be copyrighted; only the execution of the concept is the subject of legal protection. Concepts themselves are free to live in the world for people to make their own. It is their execution, in legal terms the “look and the feel” of the images that is the subject of protection legally. The artist that created this next set of images has inspired me for years. I first saw her work in an “alt” magazine many years ago and she has continued to produce great images. I have had the pleasure of breaking bread with Julia Fullerton Batton and her husband Kelvin who is also a photographer, in Arles, France.
Julia’s images deal with issues of isolation and alienation. Many of her subjects are teenage girls, relating to the slightly overly polished or greatly bizarre world around them. She has taken this seed of an idea, flying or jumping, and has now used that in her repertoire to fortify her underlying thesis of the world. In her series called “In Between,” she borrowed a general concept and made it her own. In my opinion, you cannot call these images the same from an artistic perspective (or a legal perspective). They exist as a consistent component of Julia’s body of work that delves into the psychological and socioeconomic world of her subjects.
Images provided by http://www.juliafullerton-batten.com
The last inspiration of mine is a journalistic one. Denis Darzaqu, the French photographer, spent time photographing French Hip Hop dancers in an amazing series called La Chute. The images won a World Press award and were included in the catalog, where I first saw them. I was immediately in love with the jarring flight he had created. Even though they could be viewed as a journalistic document, I also saw them as an original and artistic work of art that was emotionally inspired. My feeling for these images was strong enough to hunt Denis down in Arles to let him just how much I liked the work. They are stunning and I believe they are the true inspiration for the CAT ads. In fact they are so close in look, feel and concept to the ads that I can only think, why did the agency or CAT Earthmover not hire Denis Daraqu to shoot these ads? It stuns me!
Images provided by: http://www.denis-darzacq.com/
Having shot for many years myself, I know how these things usually happen: the comp proposed by the design firm or ad agency gets the client stuck on exactly the image they see. How the style of the comp has changed over the years has been interesting. To sell ideas and ultimately get clients, pitches now include literal photographic images instead of the line drawings that agencies used to do when making a pitch. It’s a competitive world out there pitching visual ideas to corporate number pushers that might not understand the vision of the agency pitch. To ensure that the client gets and loves the idea and then hires the agency, art directors are forgoing drawings for stock, for “swipe” photographic images.
In Hollywood, this practice is rampant. At the top, Hollywood is a culture of sequel movies and TV shows, remakes, and spin offs. This has transcended into the ad agencies that create the campaigns for the studios and networks, and they “borrow” feverishly. Ideas are often derived from a recently spied coffee table book or magazine feature that has inspired an Art Director or Creative Director. Then they create a campaign around the creative work of others. Creative theft might not be as blatant as that though. The images borrowed might just be for the purposes of bringing the client closer to the agencies vision. After all, why use a crappy line drawing when you can use a photograph?
OK, here’s why: because if you put in a particular image into the comp, that’s exactly what you are going to get, that image. Then it becomes plagiarism; you are intentionally trying to match the execution. It never gets expounded upon and it never becomes the vision of the artist you’ve hired. The client will almost always get stuck on the image you put in the comp. It’s corporate culture. I can hear the executive from marketing now, “if it has been approved by the president, that’s exactly what we have to get from the shoot or I’ll get fired!!!”
I’ve had this happen countless times and have had many conversations with my clients about it. If they are stuck on the image in the comp, I will insist they license it from the photographer that shot the original image, in addition to licensing my image. After all, we are now copying the execution of an image by another artist, the “look and feel” in legal terms. Remember, concepts are not copyrightable, only executions are. Wondering if Denis got paid for his inspiration, I contacted him. He told me that CAT originally asked him to shoot the job, but that they could not agree on a price.
I think the agency “painted themselves into a corner” by building a campaign around another artists work and then having the client not wanting to pay the photographer’s price. I believe that the responsibility of the creatives at the very beginning, going into a pitch, is to make sure that the original artist will get some sort of fee for the “inspiration,” if the client chooses not to use them, for whatever reason. This way all parties get the consideration due them.
The other solution is for creatives to think strategically about what comps the client sees and gets to keep after a pitch meeting. Depending on how literally the client perceives the visuals, their direct literal interpretation of the comp can hinder the ultimate creative process by not allowing the chosen photographer to do his or her creative best. Or, even worse it can result in plagiarizing the work of another.
Amanda and Suzanne, To Summarize: The world of art would not exist if we had nothing to look at. We copy art all the time. It’s how the world revolves. Art inspires more art. But at a certain point you have to decide to make authentic art off of inspiration and not copy inspirational art. Is there anything really original? We all can look at trends and we all follow them – example the Gap ads of early 2000 with the flare – it felt as though every photographer’s portfolio for 2 years after those ads had done it (and we still see it today). The over “REAL” post look of 2008 (which is still going strong – example the current Hidden Valley Ranch ads). How many times have you seen Venus redone? Art Directors use art sometimes to be inspired or mock up ads – which we call Swiping (and it’s come to be an acceptable process in art direction)– and it will continue to happen – it’s part of the process. Just be smart about how you shoot, what you shoot and do your research. But also remember that when creating ads it’s not only your responsibility, but also the responsibility of the art director and agency who is guiding you.
Call To Action: Be inspired and Be authentically yourself. When you receive a comp, research your comp and find a way to push the envelope with your own creative twist.
Here’s yet another example of copying to check out: http://thomasallenonline.com/2010/03/02/theft/