[Originally re-posted from MySpace to deviantArt Aug 6, 2005]
I have a quote in my profile at deviantArt: “If you stop shooting beauty because it’s cliché, you will have nothing left to shoot but ugliness.” That is my response to the idea that pictures of sunsets and flowers are overdone. I had bought in to that idea for a while, and it made me question my efforts at those subjects. I almost felt guilty for posting pictures of “cliché” subjects.
The point of that statement is not to disagree with the idea that those things are overdone. There are people who believe that just because the subject is a sunset or a flower, that it is automatically a good picture. Not true. Anybody can point and click. Not everyone can compose a striking image. If that were true, the images I have on my wall here next to me – a butterfly and a frog, both by a very talented nature photographer – wouldn’t really be worth what I paid for them.
But this is much like the discussion over whether the presence of cheap digital cameras diminishes the value of the works of the dedicated photographers. Just because there are a lot of pictures of sunsets and flowers, doesn’t mean that there are a lot of good pictures of those things.
I do agree that one measure of a good photographer is the ability to take good photos of everyday things, but I don’t necessary hold that as a requirement when making the judgment. After all, there are plenty of people doing great shots of volcanoes and deep sea creatures that deserve credit.
I think the real answer is that there are two requirements for a “great” photographer. The first is technical proficiency. The second is the artistic element, the photographer’s eye. The second element is the tricky piece when trying to make statements about which subjects do or do not mark the work of a great photographer. One photographer may be technically proficient at shooting still-life, but outstanding at capturing candid street scenes. Another may do acceptable studio portraits, but excel at capturing the height of action at sporting events. In the end, you can only judge a photographer on their body of work, without prejudice for the subjects within.
Today I received a LinkedIn invitation from some Brokerage Services Manager I’ve never heard of from some company likewise, and a Russian bride solicitation from someone calling herself the “impassioned panther Swetlana”. I think I trust Swetlana to be more honest about what she wants out of the relationship…
America is a nation born of and defined by revolution. The war for independence; the civil war and freeing of the slaves; women’s rights; civil rights; marriage equality… These shape us. This does not mean that we are always the most progressive nation. In fact, our insistence on democracy, and the integrity of the individual, guarantees that we must struggle for the best in ourselves. The important things are won by struggle, and valued above all else because of the hard fought victories. Because we fight for what matters most. And we cannot be a great nation – at least not one that upholds the ideals it was founded upon – without that struggle.
It means the America we value will never be free of struggle. We have been described as a melting pot, but in truth we are more like a forge. We take raw material and we purify with fire and with muscle and with temperance. But it is hard work. And there is much impurity in the raw material, so we must return to the forge again and again, ever purging and shaping into something better.
Nothing is original, if by that you mean ‘without reference’. Even if you managed to create something wholly out of your own head, you are sum of everything that has come before. Everything is built on the foundation of your experience.
Everything is original, if by that you mean ‘never before’. Even if you act with intention to duplicate an image, no one has captured exactly this light in this place at this time – and no one ever will again. Everything is uniquely new in the ever-present now.
Where do you draw the line on images which are clearly not the poster’s work?
Simply re-posting a picture and claiming it as your own is clearly a violation and reprehensible to boot. What about poets who use images, which often were the inspiration? What about the photo-manipulator who takes a copyrighted image and twists it? Does the ‘10% rule’ apply? What about the bastard child of photo-manip, the wallpaper ‘artists’ who throw a 1024×768 border around a magazine scan? Do you really think that makes it your own? Do you think that it excuses the use of a copyrighted image?
I’ve gotten sensitive to this issue since joining deviantArt. I know I’ve reported violations for images that I later realized were in the public domain, but I’ve also not reported images I was *sure* were copyrighted but could not prove. What makes it even harder is that there are some professional artists who post here, artists who’s work I’ve seen dumped en masse into the newsgroups. I don’t know what the admins do with violations; I have been notified when action was taken on harassment and inappropriate sexual imagery reports, but never on a copyright report – neither for or against my case. Not that I want or need the knowledge. I trust instead that they make the appropriate judgement and act accordingly.
I don’t want to be a copyright Nazi, but I get offended by people who put in little or no work and claim creative genius. I’ve borrowed work from the site to practice coloring or digital darkroom techniques, but I would never dream of re-posting those things. It’s practice, not art.
For similar reasons, I have pretty demanding standards for photo-manipulation and wallpaper work. I expect to see your work clearly, to the point where it obscures the original image. If you’re gonna do that work, then actually work at it; put in something original and make it your own.