So much of photography today is either cliché or is a rip off of someone else’s work. I am not saying it is a bad thing, but I think you are lying to yourself if you don’t believe that is true to some degree. Yes there are the odd photographers who do truly unique things. There are super creative ideas for photo projects. But as soon as your brilliant unique idea is seen, there are some people who will copy it. You can call it inspiration; you can alter it and make it your own, but you are still borrowing someone else’s idea.
Finding Our Inspirations
Whatever kind of photography you do, you have your influences. You study and admire other people’s work and add that to a giant database in your brain where somewhere along the lines you borrow ideas. Perhaps it is a pose you think looks really good, an interesting processing technique, or lighting set up that gives you the exact shot you want. In the end you are taking the culmination of everything you have seen and creating a photo of your own with that knowledge. Often you don’t even realize you are borrowing someone else’s technique. You may have seen their work a thousand times and without thinking do a version of their original idea…. which they probably borrowed from someone else.
Jealously: The Ugly Side of Photography
There is a sense of negativity sometimes when you use other artists work as inspiration. You can be called a thief, hack, unoriginal, etc… There is an ugly side to photography where there can be some intense rivalry. Photography can be quite competitive and you hear stories about some photographers trying to diminish the work of others or in some cases outright sabotage them. But why? My first answer goes back to the mom bully answer “He’s just jealous Marek, just jealous of how smart and talented you are”. Actually that quote is untrue, my parents would just say “stop being a wimp and fight back”, but then you hit Mikey and Johnny, and end up in Mr. Brophy’s office. Or if you’re my brother you invite the guy who stole your cookies into the barn and hit him in the face with a 2x4. I digress. But I do think jealously can be a cause of this. Someone does amazing work, and as a competitor you have to find things to attack them on. This is especially true when someone achieves a type of ‘star’ status in the industry. Simple primal jealousy of why are they praised so much when my quality of work is just as good. Luckily I don’t have any kind of star status to be attacked on. But in these cases the competitive party can either attack you as a person, or try to find fault in your work such as accusations of unoriginality.
Just Accept It
In the end we have to accept that not all of our ideas are original, nor are the ideas of our successful peers. We all go through a process of learning and inspiration. In the end every work is unique on some level. I don’t think there is anything wrong with borrowing influences from works you admire. I would be humbled if someone liked my images and used that as inspiration. If someone ever asked how I did something I would never say it’s a secret. Always share your secret sauce! Every great artist was once an apprentice. They made mistakes, learned the rules, and took it from there and made it their own.