What is originality in photography?

Over the last year or so I have been thinking about the notion of what is original work in photography. If I go to a particular site and take a landscape photograph that happens to turn out to be similar to someone else have I copied their work?  Moreover what if I try and do something along the lines of say Idriss Khan, whilst not exactly the same but along those line am I copying his work or is it original.  It gets more difficult when one looks at the huge numbers of people taking photographs all over the world and the number that are published on the various web sites available.  Additionally what is new in photography, artist like Jeff Wall have done the master painting interpretation, Justin Quniell does extremely long time exposures, many do street work exceptionally well and there is a plethora of extremely good landscape and portrait photographers.  All this leads to what is new.

Well some embark upon exercises of creating an artistic scene either with people or objects and then recording it via a photograph,  which begs the question is the art in the photo or is it the composition where the artistic effort is found.

Other discussion I have had also revolved around copying and downright stealing of images.  I have even seen people surreptitiously photograph painting by street artists, either to replicate or to just print out so they did not have to pay for it.  Now this area is easy it is just plainly dishonest. It is easy to determine and those guilty of it should hang there cameras up and go and do something else.  Copying is a bit more difficult,  I have even inadvertently replicated a photo,  taken in the catacombs in Paris of some skulls.  When back home and reading one of the travel guides I found an image of the same skulls in very much the same angle and composition.  Did I subconsciously replicate the image or was it pure chance.  This is excusable,  however to go to a site and work hard to get exactly the same angle and light as a photo that one has seen and likes is perhaps close to stealing,  it is a grey area and essentially the focus of this discussion.

What is original work?

Well as chance would have  it I recently I had the privilege on meeting a fellow photographer.  During the discussion we were talking about how the work they was doing was similar to Abelardo Morell’s work.  Morell has for some time taken photographs of camera obscura work in hotel around Europe and the USA.  The artist was also doing camera obscura work in various rooms at the hotel.  When I asked the artist about this they said that they were well aware or Morell’s work and others and what they was doing was to add something else to the image.  In this case people,  as all of Morell’s work was of just rooms with camera obscure images projected into the room and because the Australian photographer include people it became original work.

Problem solved,  if you want to do work that follows an idea of someone else,  that is ok but you must add to it in some way,  in other words change it in a meaningful way so that it becomes your work.


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