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Imitation or Inspiration?

Imitation or inspiration? I have been pondering this as I have worked my way through this project on female abstract photographers. So far, I have researched Florence Henri, Uta Barth, Frances Seward and Olga Karlovac, I have analysed their style, the topics they chose to photograph, and considered the way they have presented their images. I have then sought to imitate aspects of their work. Am I merely copying? Charlie Moss of the Digital Photography School discusses this, and suggests that photographers on the receiving end of such imitation could be flattered by the attention, but could also be upset, if it feels like someone is just taking advantage of all your hard work without any creativity on their part. He goes on to argue that imitation turns to inspiration when you bring your own experience to the creation of the image, an originality of voice.

Walking in the Rain Inspired by Olga Karlovac

Doug Chinnery tackles the same issue in a blog in 2019. He comments that all creatives are influenced by those who have gone before. I agree, we live in socio-cultural environments, absorbing what we hear, see, feel around us, and that includes art. It must influence our creativity. I know that I particularly appreciate impressionist and abstract paintings and that is why I like using ICM (intentional camera movement) to get similar effects in my photography. But Doug asks about the fine line between copying and becoming a unique work of our own and suggests:

"Maybe a good barometer would be to ask ourselves, how would we feel if our artwork was being used in the images of another? How changed would we want it to be before we felt its use was acceptable? Would we feel flattered by its use? Or offended?"

Take graffiti as an example. I have photographed graffitti in a nearby subway, which is the art of others. I am now conscious that I need to acknowledge where it was taken if I am going to do a straight representation. I can also use techniques like ICM and multiple exposure to radically change the original to make it something new. Fine lines indeed.

'Joy' inspired by Frances Seward

It is therefore so important to reflect on one's values and ethics as a photographer as it informs the decisions we make. What to photograph, how to photograph, what to leave in, leave out. When to deliberately not press the shutter because of your ethical stance. As Doug notes, it is down to us individually to set our own standards.

'Tulips in Red' inspired by Uta Barth

I also listened to Sean Tucker's talk on "Why Imitating other Photographers is Important and when it's Time to Stop". He argues that as a beginning photographer, imitating others is a great way to learn, but cautions against copying just one photographer as you might get stuck. I welcome his suggestion of identifying a 'stable of heroes' within a genre that will give you a loose direction to walk in and learn and then your style will emerge between the gaps of all their works. I like to think that is what is happening for me with this project. I am building my stable of heroines of female abstract photography, and am looking for unique ways of building on their ideas. Sean makes another excellent point when he reminds us that we might be able to copy the choice of gear, the lighting technique, or even put our tripod legs in the holes they left behind in the landscape, but we will only have a weak imitation of their work because we do not have their underpinning worldview. You have to build your own worldview, drawn from your experience, have you own unique voice, which links back to Doug's point about the importance of values and ethics. in our creativity.

'Apple Musings' inspired by Florence Henri

During this project, I have found that using other photographer's work as a starting point has made me try out new techniques, topics and compositions. I have also improved my understanding of light and contrast in my photography. By analysing and deconstructing aspects of another photographer's work, I am getting better at critiquing my own and identifying what draws the viewer's eye. I am still on my journey of developing a 'style'. At times over the last six months I have felt that taking these deviations into different genres has not improved my photography at all

in terms of the quality of the images that I have produced, but it has deepened my understanding of the underlying processes. I have also developed my knowledge of the history of photography and the role the female photographers played, as well as the wider genre of abstract art and expressionism. I know that the way to make my photography unique is by incorporating my own ideas, values, experiences and emotion into the process.

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