With apologies to Aperture for the title.
David Segal in Slate asks “Can Photographers Be Plagiarists?” and then provides a slideshow with some famous (and infamous) “borrowing” from the last hundred years. (Thanks to Conscientious for reading Slate so I don’t have to.)
But “plagiarism” is such an ugly word. “Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” so they say. (The Web tells me that dozens of artists were the first to say that.) Plagiarism involves the intent to defraud, which is precisely what art does. Every photograph I make is essentially a lie. Who wants completely honest art? (Perhaps the Bechers.)
But I do think that many (perhaps most) of the photographers I know pick their subject matter or style based on those who have come before. In the dominant mode of nature and travel photography, one excels either by “discovering” new places or relentlessly “perfecting” the same places that have been photographed thousands or millions of times. (I know. I’ve been there, too. The worst part is that it feels really good when you’re doing it.)
Artistic laziness is worse than “borrowing” someone else’s image.