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Wednesday, 08 June 2016


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I think this would be a good time to introduce "Everything is a Remix" by Kirby Ferguson into the discussion. It's a website with an ongoing series of videos.


Somewhat relevant to the T.S. Eliot discussion, here's an article that I bookmarked a few years ago and just revisited last week:

I am not following these copy cat posts religiously but isn't it possible with 7 billion people in the world and most of them owning cameras that some of these similar works are co-incidental. I will add that nobody could view every painting or photograph that is out there. Maybe this is like the Bossa Nova music inventor controversy.

The Steve McCurry tempest in a teapot is getting silly.
What Steve is doing is what every photographer does every once in a while, that is, trying to take a better photo. Sometimes its called 'hold that pose' or 'can you please step just a bit to the right', or 'take the lettuce out of your teeth'.
Trying to take a better photo has been going on since the beginning of cave peoples first paintings on walls.
What McCurry is guilty of is being caught with the evidence.
Photoshop just makes it easier to clean up your original photo to match your expectations of photographic perfection.

There's certainly nothing new about borrowing other people's ideas. My girlfriend and I joke that you could decimate western art museums by removing two works: "Sculpture of Nude Woman, Standing" and "Painting of Madonna and Child."

Personally, I much prefer the long posts.

Speaking of 'influence' and 'half-conscious-imitation', I picked up this book from the library recently on Group f.64:


I have to say with all honesty, I never particularly liked the Group f.64 ethos when I was in college (it seemed so subtle a rebellion), although reading the book with the amount of information in it gleaned within the last 40 years or so, leads to more understanding of their idea that they were fighting the east coast establishment and Steiglitz, rather than just the pictorialists.

Anyway, the Group f.64 aesthetic of photographing peppers, sand dunes, barn wood fences, etc., etc., at the sharpest settings possible, as a rebellion against the soft-focus pictorialists; certainly leaves itself open to some pretty questionable parsing of who's 'got-it' and who doesn't in the book, and in my own mind. What makes one person's paint spotted wall photographed in black & white better than another's? Possibly nothing but opinion...if you don't bring anything to the picture except maybe cropping, why is it 'new art'?

Is it stealing, homage, or influence to take another close-up picture of a pepper, and why does the world need another one after Weston? I have a pal who's making photographs for galleries and the "photo-art" field, and he says when his work gets shown at big expos, there's just a lot of work by others that is sharp, well exposed, boring, landscapes; with nothing really going on. He says, after Ansel, you better be bringing something different to the image; otherwise it's just copying and copying and copying...

Thanks for chasing down the Eliot reference. This actually confirms the way I have always interpreted the supposed quote. In the past I tried to chase down the attribution and came to the conclusion it was just one of those sayings that had been passed around so long no one really knew where it came from. Guess I should have dug deeper.

I have also had experiences similar to John Denniston's -- though more often with writing than photography. I hope none of it ever made it into print. If it did I never got caught.

Well, based on my experience both as a student (formally, and now everlastingly, informally----I hope to always be a student...)and as an instructor/teacher/professor: it is always excellent to copy, closely or otherwise, so as to internalize the lessons offered by the works done previously. This is a tried and true method that goes back many millennia.

And it is important work for the artist to do, because it is here in this method that one contacts and processes universals, distilled again and again by successive generations of artists over time. Because art isn't just personal expression. That would be only ephemeral and nothing more. Art lasts because it transcends the personal, even if it includes it.

Internet deserves a capital letter, but photography doesn't?

Not even on a photography blog?

It's madness, I tell you. Madness (capital M).

Winogrand interview, from yr hmbl assistant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl4f-QFCUek

Falun 2013

Mine has three trees, so it's original.

Even with photojournalism, I don't care if a photograph is staged or modified in Photoshop as long as it does not lie. Lying is creating a scene not typical of an Indian train station or putting a Russian tank on the street in Ukraine when in fact none were there. Lying with a photograph is when the photographer has an agenda other than reporting what is happening and constructs a photograph to support the lie. Steve McCurry's street photo that triggered the kerfuffle used Photoshop to make a more pleasing composition, but it did not construct a misleading street scene. Same for the train station photo. It showed a typical scene accurately, even if constructed.

This is too funny :) A secret that everyone knows.
Honestly, I am surprised that people can be so naive to think that many of those pictures were candida, and not staged? So many people have attended his workshops, he has worked with so many agents and fixers in different countries...I thought everyone already knows this.
Even a cursory look at some of those shots, the iconic ones, like two women in a storm in Rajasthan and an earthen pot in the foreground, or his Holi shot where one man is lifted by several others...all these look like arranged.
The point here is that Steve got unlucky and people are beating a dead horse, whereas everyone knows that everyone does it. It's an open secret. Steve is famous so you have the added pleasure of felling a tall tree. I know so many photags who want to come across as a street photographer, but even a casual glance at their work will tell you it's all fine art. Photoshop.
Some of them has such a gorgeous portfolio that even HCB will take a bow, but still none of them is HCB because, well, everyone knows.
I always thought SM was a story teller. Poetic visuals are his strength.
On NatGeo railway project: Again, what do we expect? He was on a job. Like every time, he must have contacted agents, recce'd the places where he would have wanted to shoot, arrange for the models and shoot.
Why has that suddenly become an issue?
Ok, I would say he is a great photographer, not a magician. He is better than everyone else who did and do the same thing anyway.

Sorry about so many typos in my comment. One should never walk while writing. Especially on a cell phone. Especially on one that has a 3" screen. And never on a busy road.

Apropos of your discussions about Blackmon's stylistic references. I was reminded yesterday while listening to NPR that Fritz Kreisler, the illustrious violinist, had done something very similar, writing works in the style of earlier composers, but further claiming that these were discoveries of lost works! Here is the relevant Wikipedia entry.
"Some of Kreisler's compositions were pastiches ostensibly in the style of other composers. They were originally ascribed to earlier composers, such as Gaetano Pugnani, Giuseppe Tartini and Antonio Vivaldi, and then, in 1935, Kreisler revealed that it was he who wrote the pieces. When critics complained, Kreisler replied that they had already deemed the compositions worthy: "The name changes, the value remains", he said."

A McCurry "square print" is available for sale on the Magnum sit, I bought the last one but not this one as I think all his work is now tainted. or as Don McCullin puts it "Art has hijacked photography"

To add to my earlier comment, I expect more dead bodies from the closet. Steve has many enemies. Those chasing fame are his enemies. Those pissed by him "using" India in a certain way are also his enemies.
I am enjoying this.
Poor guy :)

This past weekend I realized I needed fewer books in my collection so I sorted and and collected a number of them to donate to charity. My Steve McCurry books are somewhere in those boxes.

"Many great photographers start out wanting to be someone else and then gradually become themselves."

I believe that for the developing (excuse the pun) photographer there's something more fundamental going on than simply "influence" or "imitation". Like any other medium, photography has its own language and vocabulary. In photography's case, much was inherited from pictorial art, but both limited and extended by unique properties and reputation.

Photographers simply must learn the vocabulary, or invent their own, to accomplish anything with the medium; some photographers then go on to critique or expand the vocabulary. Everyone who "reads" pictures of any kind knows most of the language; those who "read" photographs, most of the vocabulary as well. The photographer, though, must not only know haw to "read" how to "write".

As with other media, simply learning to "read" isn't enough to learn the craft. One must do the exercises--learn how to *use* the language, and that means practicing the repertoire, learning the standards, getting familiar with the problems and solutions. To that end, imitation is far more efficient that reinvention. In every case, it might look like merely imitation, but in some cases, it's also much more than it appears. It's study, in other words.

This isn't necessarily a conscious process--I'm sure one can feel that it is simply imitating or copying, even as one absorbs the practices. But it probably goes better with intention and awareness.

All art is built on previous art, ignoring the "primordial art" paradox it creates. (Picasso, for example, was heavily influenced by previous masters as well as by North African tribal art and neolithic cave paintings) So with music and writing. All scientific and mathematical insights are also inspired by previous contributions. While there are some who seem to appear out of nowhere, such as Mozart or Ramanujan, but when examined carefully they also appear to have built upon previous masters'. It is all a continuum.

As to John's clearcut photo, there's a term: cryptomnesia. Webster defines it as: "the appearance in consciousness of memory images which are not recognized as such but which appear as original creations."

This is probably part of the process in many creative works, but when a whole series looks like someone else's then it's just ripping the original artist off.

Holy Internet synchrony Batman! http://imgur.com/D1yOzzY

On the contrary, the day you stop writing long posts like this is when you start to lose readers, I suspect.

And about Elliot, I'm fairly sure that Dylan post-dates him.

"good artists borrow, great artists steal"

"Although the fake quotation is almost always used to justify theft, Eliot's essay if anything is a defense of transformative re-use, which is not only allowed under copyright law but is sanctioned by long practice and artistic convention"

I've been pondering that saying and concept for some reason over the last few months and your explanation hit the nail on the head. It is one of those sly sayings that on the surface means on thing but really means something totally different once you really understand it.The saying is often "borrowed" by those who use it for their gain, but stolen by those who take it to heart and take possession of it because it makes sense. So many use it as an excuse to steal of copy but it really has a much deeper meaning. When one borrows something they never take possession or ownership of what they borrow. The "borrowed" is often used intact and unchanged "ownership" is still with the original creator. The good artist merely copies what they saw. The good philosopher repeats good ideas that they heard before. But when it is "stolen" it becomes the POSSESSION of the artist who steals it. The great artist incorporates the stolen idea or inspiration into their work with out the idea of ever releasing it or returning it to the original owner. It becomes theirs to do with what they want. Modifying it, Vilifying it, Celebrating it, Crushing it ... what ever their heart and soul desires in the effort to create their art. Incorporating it with conscious deliberate reasoning. The difference between using because they don't have that idea on one hand and on the other, must posses that idea because they cant live with out it now.
I honestly "borrowed" that phrase for years ... but see it in a much different light with a much different meaning now.

Would the Garry Winogrand be this one?

Garry Winogrand at Rice University


One thing I didn't notice in the Blackmon comments was that the shadows don't seem to line up properly, at least to my examination.

The building on the left should have a shadow, at least the person on the sidewalk next to it suggests it should.

And the shadow of the building on the right hits the stop sign and building across the street in an unbroken line. That should not happen.

So is the whole composition Photoshopped together to mimic the Balthus?

And if so what was added? The person on the left sidewalk probably, since it is so similar to the Balthus. But what about the anomaly of the shadow on the stop sign?

No matter how old, no matter how wisened by hard experience, we are always SHOCKED, SHOCKED I tell you, to find our heroes are just well polished B.S. artists.

Golly, it would be a Wonderful World if success and fame only went to the deserved, but the reality is it most often goes to ruthless and shameless opportunists. (Note a certain imbecil currently running for high office)

We are all, of course, complicit in this nonsense by being so lazy and unwilling to question what we see or hear.

So now, 30+ years into an amazingly successful career as a "photojournalist", we finally peel back a small corner of the facade and find termites in the rafters. Now, furthur examination finds it was all hiding in plain sight!

Shame on us for being so willingly ignorant and also for being so surprised.

I'd guess that arguably the last poet who was a household name in the anglophone world was Dylan Thomas.

In the UK it might even be John Betjeman or Philip Larkin or even Ted Hughes but more people will know Dylan Thomas.

Excellent sleuthing of the T.S. Eliot misquote.

Did you know that T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx were mutual fans and maintained a long correspondence by letter and eventually met for dinner in London in 1964.


A rather excellent drama/docu/musical/soundscape from BBC Radio 3 of an imagined version of the event written and staring Sir Lenny Henry can be heard (or downloaded) from


The transformative re-use component of copyright law is what allows you to make photographs in urban areas. Lots of the background of your photo (or even clothing in the foreground) contains copyrighted material but the transformative use that you make of it is what stops the other copyright owners coming after you for infringement.

If you don't make a sufficient transformation of a copyrighted object, for example of a public work of art, and you try to use the image commercially without a license then you can end up in court. Stock photographers take note.


WOW, this reminds me of how Nixon finally resigned after the beginning which was Watergate for those who remember. I have said it before in a previous comment, his fame, fortune and power did him in. Once again an arrogant self proclaimed artist stepping way past the line. Now what will his defenders say ? Perhaps create yet another term for his craft and product ?

How about this one?

Good artists copy, great artists steal. Pablo Picasso

[Fake. He never said it. --Mike]

Hi Mike, Have you read this?

The linked article says that National Geographic is "bound by a strict code of photojournalistic ethics." But I'm not really convinced that the point of the magazine is strictly journalism, as strict journalistic ethicists would define it. It seems to me that NatGeo comes out of a very non-strict colonialist, exoticizing, romantic tradition, and its continuing emphasis on beautiful, arresting, memorable, emotive, exotic images (according to a broadly popular Western taste) means that it's at least keeping one foot in that old tradition. Those amazing images are how it sells itself. I wonder what it would be like to photograph for the magazine. Surely, I can't help but think, the pressure to produce such images would naturally tend to lead to some staging of scenes and manipulation after-the-fact.

Probably the only way to stop current and future art/photography from being influenced by, or copying, past work is to close all museums and galleries, and stop all teaching of art/photo history. Let all current and future work be done in total ignorance of the past. Of course, this would have some incidental cultural side effects, but hey, what's a little collateral damage?

Thanks for this *long* piece, Mike. Excellent. What else would you have done? Made three pieces out of it? No, don't bother, it's fine as it is and I suspect your readership doesn't mind the length. Please keep it up.

Chutzpah for Spaniards:
You can even say them elliptically :
Tenerlos bien grandes

Staging a photo for effect and making certain that it's "properly posed" (I left off the "ex" and added the "com") usually comes across as obvious. When Steve McCurry does it in the name of photojournalism and desguises the fact that it has been staged with empty lightweight luggage and paid extras to look the part it is outright dishonest. For her part Julie Blackmon has disguised her black and white "disturbed looking" childhood images in front of and copying Ralph Eugene Meatyard's authentic and actually disturbing pictures from rural Kentucky, where he used neighbors and family to show relationships that face reality and ring true.

Something is either authentic or it isn't.

It doesn't matter if it isn't as long as it isn't pretending to be.

What's worse? An image of something that actually happened with a missing telegraph pole and trash can, or an image of something that never happened at all?

Contrived authenticity is insulting, both to viewers of the image who can't be trusted with reality, and the cultures depicted that don't fit in the pigeon hole we created for them.

Your longer post are informative and I enjoy reading them😊

Part of what makes this so tricky is that we all "do this." No one is completely original, devoid of precedent, and uninfluenced by previous work.

So it is not a question of, "Is it OK to 'borrow'?" or "Is the work completely original. original?" The answer are, "yes" and "no." It is more a question of of, "Is the way the influences appear one that does not substitute for creativity?"

"Well, this is a fine kettle of fish you've gotten us into Ollie!"

These posts make me wonder, is it better to look at examples of work to get inspired, or to never look at anything to be original. I can see arguments both ways. If you never saw that painting would you be copying it? But if you also never saw that painting would you stick to your own style and walk away?
Something to think about.

Mine has three trees, two light poles and a man with an umbrella, which I was too lazy to Photoshop out:


And I bet his real name is not McCurry but McGravy or something...

"The impetus is simple—we recognize pictures as pictures from having seen them as pictures."

"I think my interest gets sparked when I recognize a memory. That is when I take a picture." -Alex Majoli

Funny how photographers looking at McCurry’s work seem to think it was always straight photojournalism. National Geographic is a huge commercial enterprise that is much more today than what my grandfather subscribed to. Yeah they probably still make money off of stories with accompanying photos, but it is only as good as the front cover photo. Anyone with experience in the commercial arts knows it is all about package design, and how you get there is a creative task in itself. If people think photos are incredible because they have always been straight photojournalism, well you are misguided; nothing is absolute especially in advertising. I am not surprised McCurry staged some shots and I say if you lived that career, you would too. There is no harm in it (assuming it does not cross the propaganda line) until you make public statements that say otherwise, and that is what happened, and so the sad descent from greatness begins. Does this change my view on McCurry’s photos? Not really because it does not change the life he lived, but the Ted Talk is not so good.

Okay Mike, you have educated me into accepting Julie Blackmon is “… playing off it, as it were” and is not a copycat. I find Blackmon's work interesting and similar to how a good standup comic can make me feel; lightly entertained. Would I purchase a Blackmon book or print? No. Did I enjoy looking at her work? Yes. I can also hear in my head how an art history professor will find lots of interesting lecture material through Blackmon’s work.

Thank you for all the great articles!

Hi, Mike,
Words and phrases and who-said-it-first quotations, are an endless source of wonder and misery. The wonder of the depth of usage so often pre-dating our (my) awareness, and the misery of using and attributing wrongly with the best of intentions. The Quote Investigator found an earlier example–in slightly different form–of this quote.
I've only just found this website, I expect to spend some time here in the near future.

And so the SM saga continues... just a quick question, is NatGeo a news agent? It does not say they are on their "about" link on their webpage. Going to length of continuing to crucify the guy just because some clean up was done on one eye? Really?

I do not condone what he did, deleting people and objects in his photos, and pretending nothing was done. But this is entirely different. How many photos did Robert Doisneau staged?

“Still photography is the clumsiest way to exercise imagination, to illustrate literary ideas. Anybody with a pencil beats you. Period. You just want to take a very simple illustration of the point?: if you wanted a melted watch, what do you, how do you get it? Dali can have one anytime he wants, he doesn’t…you see? It is the clumsiest way to exercise imagination…it’s tantamount to driving a nail in with a saw, when you can use a hammer!” —Garry Winogrand, MIT Q&A, 1974

David A. Bateman...good question!

I have a family member who is an illustrator of some repute, and they don't look at, nor do they like to look at: illustration annuals, illustrator web-sites, tons of other illustrator work, altho they don't mind looking at vintage examples and odd-ball things.

They state that perusing all that material might cause them to alter their own style in ways it shouldn't, or dishearten them by making them realize the vast quantities of people trying to get work as illustrators.

I can honestly say that after a lifetime of looking at pictures, it would have to be something absolutely marvelous for me to go out of my way to look at something, or even feel any kind of impact of something in the photographic realm, and altho I've been a photographer all my life, I have a tendency to look at photography now that functions as part of explaining a story, as in documentary work, rather than the single image.

Tom Kwas sort of hit it on the head. In the art world, there are literally scads of people shooting needlessly boring 8X10 and 4X5 view camera pictures of scenery, and I think a lot of times, those purveyors function as some sort of Minor White style of mystical guru for a certain type of person, rather than really having a new and amazing viewpoint for that kind of work (heck, I could name some, but that would be wrong).

You have to make the leap that if you're going outside and plunking a view camera down and pointing it at anything scenic, and shooting a picture (especially using the zone system!), it's going to be derivative!

The change from digital to film has made it easier for large groups of people to get 'acceptable' results, and a lot of those people who couldn't do that with film are now using photography as a creative media for their personal 'art'. The vast quantities of pictures being shot have just raised the 'noise floor' of visual medial, and something better bite me hard if I'm to take notice. Probably 60 years ago, you could sit back and contemplate the 'tree at sunset' photo of people like those in Group f.64, but now that is blah, and there are millions of them, and tens of thousands trying to be sold as 'art'.

I do a lot of still life photos -- you know, apples, pears, bananas, grapes in various arrangements. I've recently noticed that there are many paintings which appear very similar to my photos, though without the fine resolution and not exactly the same composition. I certainly don't intend to make a big deal out of it. I think I can live with it.

About that McCurry "square print" currently on sale at Magnum (mentioned by glenn brown in his comment above)... of all things its subject had to be a train... in Pakistan? How appropriate, considering the porter photo in Kshitij Nagar's article! How did Magnum not distance itself from the issue, just as a precaution?

Here's the link to the photo, just in case (Mike, no need to publish it if you don't feel like it): http://shop.magnumphotos.com/collections/square-prints-sale/products/magnum-square-print-steve-mccurry?variant=20328143747

"...The whole point of photojournalistic photography, as typified by Winogrand, Frank, and H.C.-B., is to capture a slice or frame from reality without your intercession..."

Just being there—your very presence—changes the setup and dynamic. I would argue that this view of how photojournalism should work doesn't—and can't—exist.

Consider it the "Observer Effect" of photography, that is, the observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed.

Franz Gertsch is an interesting artist - large scale paintings that faithfully reproduce photographs - right down to bokeh and out of focus effects.

You need to see them in real life to get the idea


Steve McCurry's modus operandi so far as I know is to wander around spot locations and people and arrange to come back the next day to take the photographs (with his helper).
I never thought his shots were split second grab shots but then again I didn't think he rearranged the furniture so much.
His photography is very colourful and that is his metier. He is very good at it.
So much of what we see in photographs is just high class tourism advertising.
The pole fishermen in Sri Lanka only exist now for tourists to take photos of them.
The old men using cormorants to fish in China are only there as photography models.
If you just buy photo books you will never know this, if you travel you find out.

I remember a guide giving off about visitors only wanting to photograph poor people in his country and not the fantastic new skyscrapers. I told him I didn't want to see all the cliched tourist haunts just what life was like and that including seeing some boring places but also tripping over some very unique and fascinating things and people. Scratching the surface so to speak.
I did have to draw the line when she took this on board and aggressively found a mourning relative whose uncle had just died and she wanted to arrange with them for my photography shoot of the funeral the next day.

Hey ho!

> I've gone back to capitalizing "Internet,"

Could someone please tell me why internet is usually capitalised? I could search for an answer, but I'm already here, and this feels like a conversation, and Google doesn't.

When I first noticed it was capitalised (thanks Microsoft Word spell check), I thought it was just someone trying to big up something they had a vested interest in, and so I yielded to my natural state and resisted.

Seriously, it is not a place, the name of a person or a company, etc., so why?

[Dean, Kevin Purcell and Hugh Crawford answered your question, in our comments, within the past week, but you're going to have to go search for it yourself.... --Mike]

DavidB: thanks for pointing out the "observer effect". It's a kind of quantum magic for certain photographers, but it doesn't occur for those who misrepresent their efforts. If it did, the dishonesty would not be needed.

It would probably be more accurate to say their dishonesty precludes it.

Man was I surpirsed to see Valerie Jardin's name in there. She's wonderful.

That Steve McCurry photography is so phony.

Not because of the porter posed with the empty suitcases—it used to be commonplace for Indian Railways porters to carry that kind of load genuinely in that way, but because he is standing still.

Those guys move, move, move. This is because trains are available to board for only a short while, and time is money—they need to deliver the load to the compartment or luggage car and get their next client.

The other reason is that, physically, it is easier for them to keep moving than stand still when they are carrying a heavy load.

Hey ho!

> Kevin Purcell and Hugh Crawford answered your question, in our
> comments...have to go search for it yourself....

Fair enough. Somehow thought you were referring to pers. comm.

Trouble with constantly playing catch up with reading is things get burred real deep real fast. Got there in the end though, thanks (took almost all of Patti Smith's Land).

Mike, here is another take on this topic (if you haven't already seen this): http://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/art-and-culture/lies-photography-told-me-2847648/

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