Originality and the Price of Emulation

Disclaimer: a bit of creative meandering about goes on in this post.  Deep thinking about vision.  Skip this bit if you aren’t feeling deep today!  🙂

Hit <PLAY> and hang out awhile…I love DCFC (death cab for cutie) and this is def. one of my faves:




There are so many rumblings going about the internet these days, in my line of work especially, about copying, about imitation, about originality and about inspiration.  I guess it’s only natural that this topic comes up amongst those of us who create for a living.

Several things have come up in the past few days that have made me think about what inspires me, what makes me tick.  This is one of those things that crosses my mind often actually…what is the basis of my work.

The good:  I was speaking on the phone to a new client yesterday morning and she said that she contemplated hiring a photographer based on several factors.  Originality being one of them.  This new client gave me the impression of being pretty discriminating (she travels the globe and collects art from all over the world) and to be told that by someone who simply viewed my portfolio was a boost to the ego (so thank you Lia!).  I know I’m far from the most unusual photographer out there but I do like to think that bringing to the table that is so very unique is my worldview, the way I see things and I really truly hope that all that inspires me is sort of lost amongst the shuffle in the work that I present.  Yes you can tell that I am inspired by a million things (some more than others…) but I hope that you can’t even pinpoint one source.  I talk about this ad nauseum during the photographer’s workshops that I host , not just the concept of originality (because as photographers we can bang on that drum all day!)  but being true to HOW you see the world and what inspires you.  Emulation as a creative endeavor is not a sincere form of flattery for anyone involved.

In art school (so I have been told numerous times) the burgeoning artist is encouraged during their early stages to emulate great works of art.  In art it is recognized that without some level of emulation you cannot learn basics.  While that is true as a student, as you become an artist you are then encouraged to switch gears and become more individual and to apply the very basics to your own vision.  I can honestly say without doubt I try to live my life in the way that provides me meaning, in the way that provides my work with everything I need for it to be the way I envision in my head.  I think, that as a photographer who has "several" 😉 fellow photographer readers, many of who are burgeoning into becoming professional or possibly are on the path to doing so, it would be a disservice to not discuss the concept of finding your voice in your art.  While I think that yes, it’s all been done before, sheer emulation (on basis of locations, poses, concepts) is not a worthwhile or truthful endeavor to yourself.  You sell yourself short by not following your vision.  And instead of flattering the person you may be emulating, in fact you may be insulting them.  Think carefully before doing something that doesn’t wholeheartedly inspire you to respond to your inner voice.  By not being true to yourself you only cheat yourself in the long run.

The internet, with it’s widespread ability to inspire us, has made us often complacent when it comes time to give credit where credit is due.  Unfortunately we believe because we are viewing something on a small box in the privacy of our home, that we are the only ones privy to what someone else is showing.  As if it is our own secret.  The fact is, my small corner (er, corners) of the internet, sites as small as my own gets literally thousands of hits weekly.  SO think carefully about not listening to your inner voice.   Do you want to be known as a copy of someone or would you rather be known as someone who thinks outside of the box.   There are literally hundreds of people who are thinking they are on the inside scoop for something, that does not make for a very small club.  🙂  My message is think very long & hard about emulating someone’s site/work/poses/etc. before doing so.  The internet ends up being a very small place.  It really does.


Prissy Missy


Dock Girls I


To that end I think Herman Melville said it best:

"I think it is better to fail in originality than succeed at imitation."


Being human it is in our nature to be inspired by others.  Great achievements have been made based upon using someone elses’ ideas/concepts/inventions and bettering them.  So if you are inspired by someone and are working on improving a concept someone else has done, by all means should you give credit to where credit is due.  I’ve personally made the mistake of not following through with something in the past few months and once I realized the error of my ways, I did all in my power to rectify it.  Because being inspired is part of what makes us human but also we are obligated to those who inspire us to occasionally give them some credit.  That’s part of being a good human.  🙂

Thus concludes my creative PSA for the day.  I only want for each of us to be the best that we can be.  To follow our own path set forth for us.  Looking at my own life I know I have come to my place for a reason…find the path that your life is meant to follow and you will never live a life of regret or sadness.


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  • elizabeth - May 19, 2008 - 8:21 am

    Ohhh I love these image Mare.. wow

  • Pammy - May 21, 2008 - 10:07 am

    That image of your girls on the dock has always been one of my favorites and I think that is when I first noticed your work. Stay unique.

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