A realization: GOOD PHOTOGRAPHERS STEAL; bad photographers copy.
Part 1: Stealing
I stole this idea.
This is a riff from Pablo Picasso, who also stole this saying from somewhere else.
This is what this saying means:
- Stealing inspiration/motivation/ideas from other photographers/artists is a good thing!
- However, simply copying (exactly) what others did before you (without adding anything new) is “bad” — meaning, boring for you.
Things to steal from other photographer-artists
I steal a lot. I steal shamelessly from other master photographers or master artists from the past. I steal their philosophies, ideas, compositions, the way they edit/sequence their books, and their color palettes/monochrome style.
My suggestion is to shamelessly steal anything and everything in the realm of art, but remix it and make something new — make it your own!
Just shoot it!
Of course, if you make any photos (regardless of how much you steal from other photographers) it will be your own style. Why? Because when you make photos, you’re doing it with your own gut, your own soul, your own artistic vision, with your own idiosyncratic/unique/personal way.
For example, let’s say you wanted to do a photo project of the NYC subway, and saw Bruce Davidson‘s “Subway” book. That book shouldn’t discourage you– rather, I recommend you to shamelessly steal some ideas from it! But, when you do it– don’t try to copy the book or project picture-by-picture. Rather, find inspiration/motivation from Davidson, but when you shoot the subways, don’t try to copy his technique or approach. Do it your own way! Use the camera equipment/gear you would prefer, approach strangers however you want (either with or without permission, Bruce Davidson almost always asked for permission), and whether with flash or natural light (Davidson used flash).
For more inspiration on how to shoot street photography in the subway, pick up a copy of STREET HUNT >
Originality is overrated
A lot of photographers get discouraged by other photo-critics, or photographers, who say that their work is “derivative” and “un-original” or “un-inspired”. I say ignore all the haters, critics, and nay-sayers. Just shoot whatever interests you, however it interests you, and stay true to your own vision, and don’t compromise your artistic vision.
Originality is overrated. Better for you to make photos which YOU consider is good.
Part 2: Copying
Copying is bad.
Why do I consider copying bad? A copy (if you imagine like copying files, or a xerox machine) — to make a 100% replica of something is boring. To copy another photographer-artist means to literally try to make photos exactly like how that photographer made photos, to use their exact same technique, approach, etc.
For example, when I started shooting with a flash in street photography, I copied Bruce Gilden. When I was a newbie at flash, I think it was a good thing. But as I evolved, I just started to “steal” the techniques of flash and street photography from photographers such as Martin Parr (who “stole” the concept of shooting with a macro lens and flash for his ‘Common Sense’ project, which he got inspiration from Araki’s Flowers project) and Anders Petersen (who got inspired by Daido Moriyama, who got inspired by William Klein). And the more I stole these ideas/techniques/approaches (without being a 100% clone), I got better — my photos became more unique/interesting.
I started to evolve from simple black and white street flash photography to color street flash photography. Now, I use flash quite often to photograph anything and everything– whether an urban landscape, whether my food, or something else.
Your life is short. Why waste your time/life living the life of someone else?
Be unabashedly/shamelessly you. There is only one of you on this planet. There is only one person with the same life experiences, outlook, and opinion as you.
It is better for you to true to yourself (even if you may be “bad”), than to copy someone else and be great.