Plagiarism, Influence & Respect
Old Captain Pastel Pants rides out again.
As ever, customary cautions apply…
Parental Advisory: contains bad words
Trigger-Warning: contains facts
Safe-Space Guidance: contains opinions with which you may disagree
Allergy Advice: contains ideas you may consider nuts
Political Correctness Detection: contains innuendo you may find offensive
Just like I threatened I would be.
And, as in my previous ramblings on ‘stories and themes' (geez, remember that one? No? Me neither...) I'm here to up your antes, tickle up your fancies and wedge up your panties. Metaphorically speaking.
As day 48 (or thereabouts… Pfff... I’ve lost count) dawns or concludes… and that will depend on your personal isolation time frame... How are we all doing out there? I rather fancy everyone’s as well as can be expected, given the circumstances and the few coping mechanisms at our disposal. And one of mine is inconsequential scribbling. Now commonly referred to as shitposting. I wonder if that fabulously apposite and thoroughly accurate 21st century web-world word has found its way into the OED yet… I should blimmin well hope so. And obviously I don’t know how cathartic this periodical lexicographical paraphernalia is for you, my little darlings, but it works for me.
So, as I re-emerged from the luxuriousness of blank oblivion into the reality of unbearable consciousness in the bathtub this morning, semi-clothed, surrounded by the detritus of inebriate excess, in a patch of malodourous dampness of dubious origins and with no recollection of the previous twelve hours, it occurred to me that lockdown just might be getting to me a tad...
Welcome, one and all, to clown-world asylum, where it seems the lunatics truly have taken over; it’s a wild and unbridled twisted travesty of a charade of a farce of a pretence of an injustice of a sham of a mockery of a parody of a tragedy. And, as if it were some kind of perverse and cruel consolation prize, we’re all in it together. I’ll say no more on that now, other than: a couple years back, after my crazy LPOTY accolade, I said: ‘the only way is down for me now…’. Little did I know that, shortly, the only way for all of us would be down. Lock... down.
‘Ce monde est une comédie pour ceux qui pensent, et une tragédie pour ceux qui sentent…’
Some poncy, clever-dick old frog said that. That’s a joke by the way… I’m not an ageist, a homophobe or a racist (just ask my mum). And it’s as true today as it was when he said it 400 years ago.
But enough with the penitent victimhood, the jaunty cynicism and the xenophobic jollity. As ever, graver matters await our due consideration. And you will no doubt be thrilled to learn that the prickly subject of today’s shitpost is premeditated, malfeasant and most inappropriate misappropriation. Well, come to think of it, it’s a bit more nuanced than that; it’s about how we can manoeuvre ourselves into an acceptable symbiosis of influence and originality, evade accusations of smelly thievery and take flight from our creative chrysalises on glittering wings of arty farty beauty, wafting an altogether more agreeable personal fragrance of imaginative distinction. So, join me as we perilously perambulate into the petrifying pit of picture pilferage and we endeavour to wrap our jaded, faded lockdown brains around that feral beast of a ubiquitous conundrum.
But Benjamin, another elaborate chronicle is temptation beyond endurance yet obfuscation beyond anguish; struggling to exhume some semblance of sense from your crazed confusions is like hunting for a virgin in Bangkok... Fun, but futile. Where are you going with this? I hear you implore.
Well, my logician legionnaires, allow me to eloquently elucidate. The moment has again arrived for us to burnish the shield of critical faculty, to sharpen the scything sabre of rationality, to brim the quiver of perception with the deadly arrows of incontestable logic and, aboard our mighty sloop of resolute reason, to set intrepid sail once more for the piracy-infested waters of phony baloney, plagiarism and good old-fashioned larceny. So, arm-up and prepare to thrust our weaponry of wit and wisdom into the despotic beasts of falsehood and theft; those vile monstrosities that skulk with miserable but sinfully-tempting intent in the shadowy but perversely-seductive corners of the kingdom of kleptocracy.
Buckle up, boys and girls (and others) blatherings ahoy.
And thus, my enlightened enquirers, apostolic sycophants and demonic detractors, we begin today's rambling shamblings. So, allow me to elaborate as annoyingly incomprehensibly as I am able on the subject at hand. Join me as we valiantly venture into the valley of the shadow of analytical death…
And I’ll begin by posing a question, if I may. A bit of an open-ended question, I realise, but… Where does your toggery come from? From the 19th century as its origin source, obviously… But your work, its essence… how about that? Is it yours? Or is it, you know, mostly someone else’s? Now there’s a curved-ball of controversy for you to cogitate, right there. Can you hit it out the park, or will it bowl you for a duck? Seriously though… Are you gingerly photo-trespassing, just a leedle bit? Are you merely loosely influenced and genuinely manifesting your own take on an existing stylistic theme? Or are you blatantly outright nicking someone else’s ideas? Full-on forging? And not ahead, but in the counterfeit stylee?
If you are in the latter category (you know who you are…) you would do well to remember (and it really is as straightforward as this): if you are the one plagiarising, you are doing something wrong; if you are the one being plagiarised, you are doing something right.
But ironically that is where we all start. When we’re at the beginning. Finding our way. Yet still really mostly lost. That’s what motivates us: pre-existing, thoroughly accomplished, inspirational work. The work we see that’s so skilful, so evocatively aspirational, so viscerally moving when we view it that we are inexorably compelled to learn about it and to endeavour to recreate it. And so begins the process of learning the process, the commitment to that meandering and exponentially challenging road that sporadically leads to those rare and precious epiphany moments that change our vision forever.
"Good artists copy, great artists steal..." Pablo Picasso
Seeking and finding heroes is a good thing, briefly emulating heroes is a good thing too but it's not a long-term strategy for success. Ultimately, if you only produce copies of the work that others put out, you are being reactive, not proactive. And proactivity produces originality.
But Benjamin, you indecorous demolisher of decorous destiny and defiler of dreamy dreams; before we commit further to the ruination of your imagination, how do we reconcile your sordid duplicity of fiendishly acerbic censure with your devilishly-dark alluring attraction while simultaneously retaining our sanity? I hear you ask.
Well, if it’ll make it a little easier, allow me to show you a picture. It’s an image of a cloud over a hill and I shot it in the Lake District a few years back-along.
But, although I took it, I cannot say it is genuinely, intrinsically mine.
Cole Thompson is an American tog. A highly skilled and respected B&W tog as it happens. I love his stuff. Please check him out.
And this is one of his:
You get me now, right? Mine is just too closely associated with the inspirational source material to claim it as solely my own.
Need I spell it out any further? I thought not.
So, what do we do about this conundrum-in-waiting then? This alluring but malevolent troll that lurks so deviously and ambushes so repeatedly on the path we ply to attain our arty-farty destiny? Well, we build on the foundations of our inspirations. That’s what we do.
This is another one of mine:
So is this:
See the influence of Thompson’s 'Lonely Cloud' concept? But my two colour seascapes are creatively distanced enough from his work to be considered entirely mine. His influence is only apparent now that I have pointed it out.
Much like you, I have many toggery heroes. Those whose work inspires, compels and moves me in such profound ways it would be truculent to deny their sway on where I am today. I am a landscape tog who won an LPOTY award. Still a full-on frikkin freak-out when I think of it… Worthy winner or not argument to one side for a moment (and we all have our opinions on that, don’t we, dear readers?) the entry was a piece of work that I was very happy with at the time and am still happy with now, although if I spent some time on it again, I might process it a little differently. Mostly though, it absolutely gets an honourable mention in the steadily evolving (and I would say incrementally improving) body of work that I continue to create. And I have some thoughts about all that (well, of course I do…) and why we shoot what we do, in the way we do. I wrote about it extensively in a previous shitpost and if you’re feeling that way inclined, you can click here to read it: Stories & Themes.
The winning work itself, in terms of being a personal vision of the landscape circumstances of the moment, I believe was/is uniquely mine. As far as I was/still am aware, it didn’t have a direct reference to anyone else’s prior material, although influences of which I am unaware may be manifest to some viewers. And I’d genuinely be interested to know if they are, and what they are... For while I have no insight into the process of shortlist/finalist/winner selection, it makes sense to me that all that foregoing had a bearing. Anyway, as an idea, it was certainly among the embryonic beginnings of a portfolio style that captivates me still and is a noteworthy element of the humble origins of Captain Pastel Pants, the sad old has-been you may know today.
My point here is: even if the admission is hard sometimes, it’s essential to recognise your influences. Shameless aping never pays but acknowledging your inspirations always does because, until we grow to our full potential, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.
And we would do well to remember that.
But we would also do well to remember that even giants have humble beginnings. Acorns and oaks and all that malarkey.
The bald, hard core and undeniable truth is: all photographers, no matter how great they may be now, were all totally crap once upon a time. Evolution got them to where they are today.
Your vision will evolve, your style will manifest. Accept your influences as you tread your own path. Work on your tiny part of the sub-genres you choose to occupy. Any creative, in any field, whether it’s a crime writer, a seascape painter, or a film maker does not have exclusive dominion over an entire genre just because they choose to practise in it… Search widely enough, go back far enough, ask around a bit and you'll probably find someone else is already doing or has done what you think you are exclusively doing. Close enough to it anyway. But if you absorb and respect your influences, acknowledge your inspirations, perfect your technique, find your stylistic niche and create your own narrative, you can make some small part of the photosphere (or any other sphere) your very own.
But don’t take this influencer-respect and hero-acknowledgment stuff as gospel from me, take it from this dude. His films are garlanded with overt and sumptuous homages to the great masters of cinema, all of whom he so obviously worships, yet his work is respectful and, above all, distinctively his own.
‘People ask if I went to film school, I say; no, I went to films…’ Quentin Tarantino
He studies his heroes. He references his heroes. He honours his heroes. And he has taken his rightful and unique place in late 20th and early 21st century cinema. My point here is that if any references are respectful, dignified and subtle - and if the work ultimately has the veracity of the author’s unique signature - then, regardless of the source of its inspiration, the work stands on its own and speaks for itself through its inherent integrity.
And go easy on yourself if you’re feeling lost or unsure or uninspired along the way. We all get cast adrift, generally feel misplaced, or just plain old lose our mojo from time to time. Like the tides, creativity ebbs and flows.
Finally, Remember that all photographers are the same; from the noobiest noob, from the grumpiest, most miserable self-righteous whinger, from the saddest, most talentless troll, all the way up to the exalted heights of the greats, the maestros, the kings, the queens and the masters, they all want the same things:
To learn new skills
To improve technique
To create better images
To develop personal vision
And if you don’t want those things, it’s time to give up.
Until next time, don’t give up…