Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Influenced or Imitation?

Influenced by or imitating?  This is what I have been mulling over following the critical review I completed for assignment three. Helen Levitt was a hugely accomplished photographer in her own right but I was quite surprised by the significance her influences had on her work. She circulated amongst the greats of the time submerged herself in a creative environment. She learnt from and was inspired by them, and openly copied, imitated and used their ideas.  This surprised me.

And it got me thinking.  My own way of working to date has been fairly solitary and I have developed ideas very much independently, trying to be as original as my skills allow.  If I have been influenced by established artists, I have applied a 'light' touch to my work, careful not to copy, merely inspired by.  I don't want to retrace a successful artist's journey, I'm on my own journey and I would like it be original.  But, maybe I need to alter my approach. My tutor recommended I should try to make contact with other photographers - this I have responded to and to start with I have attended a local photography club.

Perhaps an apprentice photographer is just that and 'copying' those you are inspired by is an important step in an artist's development.  I don't know how other established photographers work, but I am now wondering.

Slightly on a tangent, this article inspired me to read this book Regeneration2. It has also been exhibited this summer at the Saatchi Gallery. As it says here:
Take 700 portfolios from 120 of the world's top colleges, take 80 of the best, and what do you have? A pretty good indicator of where photography is headed...
And this is what attracted me to the book.  I wanted to see what other students were doing in other colleges and institutes around the world.  It is an interesting publication and fascinating to see how the compelling issues differ from country to country.  And I found myself trying to guess who the influences of the photographers were. Some I didn't know, but others, their influences seemed more obvious and I could hazard a guess who they may have been. I'm sure I've seen some work influenced by the likes of Gregory Crewdson, Nan Goldin, Rineke Dijkstra, Cindy Sherman, Sam Taylor Wood, Hilla and Bernd Becher.

So are they 'copying' or imitating their 'heroes' or is this absolutely a legitimate approach I should be adopting myself?  It isn't that I'm not influenced by the top photographers, but I try hard not to produce work that replicates that of another artist.  Maybe this is how you find your own voice, define your own style and contribute to the work that has come before.

I have no answer to this (ahem, I've heard myself say that a fair bit recently!)...but maybe I should fear 'imitating' or 'copying' the greats less.  This will help with assignment 4, which is to photograph in the style of the photographer I reviewed.


  1. Hi Penny....

    Another interesting post and something I've thought about but not put into writing quite so well (my blog is not one of my stronger points). I just thought I'd add one of my own experiences from the marking of PwDP.

    As with the other L2 courses, PwDP features an assignment when you shoot in the style of your essay, so I went along with an idea inspired by Kelli Connell. The feedback was excellent, but for this final assignment there was a comment that the tutors were split, as one thought it was too close to the work of Connell, the other that it was a derivative of the work. In the end they agreed it was ok, and I received an A, but they commented it was close.

    So, what I'm trying to say is that, even if you have to shoot in the style of for the course, make sure there is enough of yourself in there - don't lose yourself in the work of others. But that's what you were striving for anyway. I'll shut up now.


  2. Hiya Rob...thanks for your thoughts on this, I'm glad I'm not the only one questionning this!! I'll dip in to your archives if I may and see how you approached this as I too will soon have to do this. I'm still not comfortable 'copying' somebody's style, it just feels wrong - visual plagiarism! But there clearly is merit in doing so.



    BTW your blog is great - extremely professional and eloquent!!