The above image is two pages from Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like An Artist. If you haven’t read this yet, definitely go grab a copy quick. Now that I have given credit where credit is due, on to my real point (hopefully).
I have seen too many posts recently from creatives on social media touting how unique or original they are (I think I have been spending way too much time perusing social media…) and somehow it has really gotten under my skin for some god awful reason. It shouldn’t really bother me since it has no bearing on what I am doing, but it still does; something terrible.
Before I go too much further though… this isn’t a diss to some of my fellow creatives out there. I have some friends in my community who truly are being “original” and recognize and even throw heavy attention to the other artists that they are inspired by to put their own twist on their work. I have many friends that have honed their craft and fully own that the have “stolen” a technique, a lighting style or inspiration from another creative, yet still maintain and create solid work that has their unique DNA to it; because they studied what was done before them and learned how to remix that to make something that was their own
Here is basic gist of my unsolicited rant…as the blog title states, everything you did has already been done. To quote Anton Chekhov, “There is nothing new in art except talent”. I truly believe this. Sure, there are different mediums now to work with than there were in the past. But let’s be real here, all we creatives are doing is one of two things:
- straight up copying the work of someone else and somehow passing it off as our own, or
- creatively “stealing” something from someone or something else that has already been created.
For example, early on in my photography career I was trying to find my “voice”. So I looked through countless sources and saved images left and right of things that blew me away, I wanted to try to emulate an editing or lighting style, etc. At this time, Tim Tadder was coming in to the commercial photography spotlight really fast and hard. The below image belongs to Tim Tadder (and hopefully he doesn’t get pissed at me for using it on my blog). His style at the time was incredibly unique and different than the rest of the commercial photography world. He uses hard rim lighting to create really strong highlights on skin that has been oiled up for a beautiful reflective sheen. The way he chose to slightly desaturate the skin tones and punch up the clarity and contrast to maintain the pore texture.
The above image is one I took while I was still going through photography school here in Austin at ACC (I can not speak well enough about this school, the faculty or the program). You can obviously note where I “stole” the lighting style and editing technique to achieve MY image. There is no way for me to even remotely try to say that I was not directly influenced by Tim’s work. No way, no how. I would be a liar if I tried to say otherwise. But, I still claim the image I created as solely mine. See where I am going here yet…?
Around the same time, I stumbled upon Jill Greenberg’s work. Some of you may be familiar with her work because of all the bullshit drama around when she photographed McCain with some (hilariously amazing) horror lighting. Most of you will remember Jill for her series involving crying children. There is a very similar style to Jill and Tim’s lighting; yet still managed to uniquely add their own twist. Since a lot of Jill’s work at the time was more focused on portraiture, I was drawn to the retouching aspect. I was fascinated by the sharp highlights and shallow shadows that made her images almost feel three dimensional on the computer screen. This was also about the time that the term frequency separation was becoming a buzz word in the photography industry. This technique gave you a way to really control how smooth you wanted the skin to appear, while still keeping (honestly, you were having to reintroduce) the pore texture sharp and clean; albeit the number of different layers and layer masks and brush strokes involved could push one over the edge of insanity. Side note, my buddy Nino Batista has recently built and released an amazing photoshop plug-in that you should just go ahead and purchase now (and no, he isn’t paying me in any way shape or form to promote this). The below left image was created by Jill Greenberg.
With my image on the right you can tell where I “stole” some from Greenberg’s work to create my own imagery. But I also “stole” heavily from the lighting style of Martin Schoeller (this man’s work is mind blowing). My series involved getting as many people as possible to stare through my camera, as little expression as possible. Why? Because I saw the end of this project the minute I shot and began editing the first 3 portraits. I spent hours messing with all of the different layers and masks to smooth out the skin but keep the facial hair unaffected; and to keep the pore texture intact and crisp. Basically I blended two looks that I wanted to attempt and remixed them to create something that was still MY image.
As much as I really want to right now, I will not keep adding more and more images (Avedon and Crewsdon, for example) to make this post too long and bore everyone “reading it”. I will save them for another post at a later date.
Back to my main point again though; before I get sidetracked some more. It has all been done before. High key portraits. Desaturated, high contrast images. Digitally cross processing your images and adding oranges to your highlights and blues in the shadows. Take all of those things that you love about someone else’s work and put your own spin on them. Give credit to where your influences came from. Let your own talent and voice be seen and heard with what you create. Get uncomfortable. Ask questions. Fail miserably; preferably over and over again (seriously, this is a great way to get good at what you do). You are not being original if you use the same location as everyone else because you put a different subject matter in the space and framed it the same. You are being original if you have studied what was done before you, respected their work, and let your own talent and voice do the “talking” for you.
Now go listen to a Lauryn Hill remix of Lost Ones…