Plagiarism or Homage?

There is a minor ongoing Internet kerfluffle regarding the images of David Burdeny and whether or not his images, particularly his Sacred and Secular series, are copies of the work of other photographers.  (As an aside, I’m a fan of Burdeny’s work generally).  I first heard about this from the Conscientuous blog – posts here and here – and this issue is explained in much more detail, with many sample images, on the PDN blog here and here.  The details of this particular case are not what I am concerned about here.  (Though, for the record, my initial take was that the images were sufficiently different to be perfectly acceptable – but Burdeny’s own defense hurt his case in my eyes as it convinced me that he is very possibly in the wrong here.  The similarity of the gallery installations, and the remarkable coincidence of so many shared locations, also worries me.  And please note that I am only talking about the ethics of the situation, not any legal issues.)

So what am I concerned about?  I think this is an issue that impacts all photographers, particularly ones that photograph images centered on place.  If you are a serious photographer, you likely study the works of other photographers and many of those will influence you, either directly or subconsciously.  If you photographing relatively famous subjects, whether it be the Bubbles in Acadia or Half Dome in Yosemite, you certainly will be walking in the footsteps of other photographers (or positioning your tripod right next to someone else) and therefore run the risk of copying the work of others, subconsciously or otherwise.

For me it all comes down to intent.  If you study photographers and go to some of the same locations as them, many of your images will likely be similar to ones you have seen.  If you intentionally try to copy someone else’s work and pass it off as your own, however, you are the one who has to look in the mirror each day as such an action is clearly inappropriate.  Of course, many photographers emulate previous shots for legitimate reasons, such as having a record of being there, for educational purposes (what do I need to do to replicate this?), or just because of physical limitations (using the same pull-out in a national park looking over the bend in the Snake River).  Some similarities in photographs, particularly those taken from more common locations, can be completely appropriate, but photographers should take care not to mimic the work of others as, beyond any ethical issues, I believe it can stunt the growth of your own unique and personal style.

As you develop your own personal style, I believe that images will start to become unmistakenly yours even when taken from the same iconic locations.  I know for me, when I go to a well-known location, I try to take photographs I don’t think anyone else has taken – and because I can be somewhat competitive, I try to better what I’ve seen before.  Building upon the work of others, after all, is essential to the history of art itself.

So, what do I recommend?  Don’t worry about “polluting” yourself by studying the work of others – because to do so you will sacrifice one of the best ways of improving your art.  Go out and take photographs and, if you have to, get those iconic shots that “everyone has done” out of your system.  After that, though, seek out images from those locations that are different from what you have seen before.  And, with some luck and skill, maybe you can surpass those early images or provide a fresh perspective.  Or, simply try to find less iconic locations and make them your own.

Peter Turnley on Haiti

Just posted this morning is an excellent (and heartbreaking) piece of that increasingly rare beast, long form photojournalism.  Peter Turnley’s photographs provide a striking narrative of the recovery (or at least the beginnings of a recovery) for Haiti approximately three weeks after the devastating earthquakes.  Kudos to Mike Johnston’s The Online Photographer for providing the platform for these 60 photographs from Peter Turnley.  Highly recommended.

The Lenswork "Look"

Many black & white photographers are familiar with Lenswork magazine, the excellent fine art black & white magazine that is known for its superb quality of printing.  Founder Brooks Jensen has started a number of promising blogs associated with the magazine, and I wanted to highlight two recent postings that might be of interest to many fine art photographers and printers.

One thing Lenswork is also known for is its consistent warm, brown look for its black & white imagery.  Lenswork uses a duotone printing process and Brooks has an interesting discussion of why they use such a process instead of a more traditional quadtone CMYK printer on his new blog.  Many people have tried to replicate that look (which originates from the duotone printing process and their choice of inks) but Brooks has posted his own personal attempt to do so in a format suitable for both Lightroom and Photoshop at the bottom of that article.  I tried out the Photoshop version (a Black & White adjustment layer that you ‘load’ as part of a new adjustment layer) and I’d say it is a pretty close match, as you can see in the image below:

I don’t think that one should blindly follow the settings of others, but this should be a good starting point if you are a fan of the tone of Lenswork.  Each printer and paper will also have an impact on any final printed images, and to use this particular conversion you will have to print the image as a color image using Photoshop.

If you use an Epson printer with its Advanced Black & White mode (which I find to be superior to printing a black & white image, even toned, as a color image), you can also use Brooks’ ABW settings as a starting point for your own printing.  I haven’t tried to print using these settings but I look forward to testing them out.  Achieving a satisfying tone and color on a fine art digital black & white print is often difficult to achieve, but the tools to do so are quite powerful (and complex) and having a good starting point for the look you are trying to achieve can result in significant savings in time, ink, and paper.

Pixels Show in Lewiston

UpdateThe local Village Soup/Herald Gazette has an article about this show featuring one of my images.

This coming Friday, Jan. 29th, from 5-7 pm, L/A Arts’ Gallery 5 in Lewiston is hosting an opening for its Pixels show.  Three of my pieces will be in the show and the show will run until March 29th.  I’ll be attending the opening (maybe with my daughter Eliza, perhaps not).  Here is a copy of the flyer:



The show should be an interesting one as the curatorial basis for the show is “Pieces of a Whole”.  My interpretation was to include my abstract cityscape photography that includes, well, pieces of whole buildings.  You can see two of my images on the flyer – and since those are hard to see, web versions are below.  And, of course, if you want to see the real thing, hopefully I’ll see you on Friday night at the opening.




The first two are from Seattle and the third from Boston.  You can see more of my cityscapes here.

Favorite Photographs from 2009

I thought it might be interesting to select and post my favorite photographs from 2009.  With one Rocky Mountain-derived exception, they are all from Maine.  I believe that 2009 represented a significant step forward in my photography in all aspects, and I’m optimistic that 2010 will be even better.  Without further ado, here are my favorites from the year – please feel free to comment if you have your own favorites from this list!  And best wishes to everyone for a wonderful 2010!


The Tarn, Acadia National Park


September Snow, Colorado


Sunset, Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park


Reid State Park, Dusk


Reid State Park, Late Afternoon


Marshall Point, Dusk


Falls, Grafton Notch State Park, Maine


Baxter Reflections, Baxter State Park, Maineimage_megunticook_at_dusk

Megunticook at Dusk, Lincolnville, Maine

image_megunticook_reflectionsMegunticook Reflections, Camden, Maine

New Work Redux

I’ve just completed another big update of the galleries of my website.  I’ve added three new galleries – a Favorites Gallery, a Flora Gallery, and an Other New England Gallery (which, at this point, includes CT and NH).  The Favorites gallery will be my current favorite images – not necessarily the best sellers or the ones that others like best, but the ones that are my personal favorites as images.  Over time new images will certainly kick some of these out, but as of the end of 2009, this is what I see as my best.

I’ve also added Portland, Maine images to my Cityscapes Gallery.  Next up – winter images!  I will hopefully be photographing quite a bit over the next few months and the Maine winter should obviously provide me many opportunities for winter photographs.


New work!

Today I’ve updated the Gallery of my website with quite a bit of new work.  I’ve added two new sections – Maine Mountains & Lakes (as I venture further away from the coast) and Colorado (from a short trip this September).  I’ve also added new work to the Acadia and Maine Coast galleries.  Take a look and let me know what you think!

As a teaser, here are two of the new images – one from Baxter State Park in Maine and one from Colorado.


Baxter Reflections


September Snow, Colorado

Winter Light Show

Well, just like that, thoughts are turning to winter after an all-too-brief fall.  Two of my older images will be on display soon in Lewiston, ME in the Winter Light exhibition sponsored by L/A Arts.  The exhibit will be up from November 6 through December 19th.  It appears work will actually be in two locations (about two blocks apart) – Gallery 5 and the Community Gallery.  I believe that my work will be in the Community Gallery and it may not be up until about a week after the beginning of the show.  I’ll try to find out more details on how this is actually working soon and I’ll post an update here once I find out.


These two images are actually from one of my former favorite places, Gay City State Park in Connecticut.  To clarify, the park still exists, we just no longer live nearby.  We used to walk there multiple times a week with our dog all throughout the year, as Brutus loved the wide open trails.


My Work in Upcoming Reflections Show

You can see my work at the PhotoPlace Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont in the upcoming Reflections show sponsored by the Vermont Photography Workplace.  The opening reception is 5-7pm on October 9th.  I’ll unfortunately be unable to attend the opening, but the selected work looks to be strong so I’m confident the show will be a good one.  My image from Cape Cod entitled Nauset Marsh, Sunrise is the image that will be shown.  The show will be up from October 8th to November 9th.

Nauset Marsh, Sunrise
Nauset Marsh, Sunrise