There is a long story to this. Bear with me...
One of the photographers who I greatly admire is Cole Thompson. In addition to his influential work, his thoughts on photography are always interesting and thought-provoking. Frequently taking a contrary view to commonly held ideas on photography - something which strikes a chord with me (I hate to follow the crowd, sometimes to my detriment). One of his sometimes controversial ideas is photographic celibacy. He says that he refrains from browsing other photographer's work believing that it will taint his own artistic vision, and cause imitation & stealing ideas rather than looking for one's own shots. In the internet age, and with the ubiquity of digital cameras, the deluge of images that pass in front of our eyes make this very challenging, so how he follows through on that I don't know.
More on that subject later...
Just over a month ago, Cole posted a blog entry describing how he had just got back from a trip to Death Valley, and on return, while inspecting his shots, he had discovered that he had experienced some technical issues with a new camera on that trip, resulting in many captures not being good enough. This hit close to home for me. It just so happened that I had also just got back from Death Valley (We were probably both there at the same time!). And, I too had just got a new camera. However, in my case, I decided not to take my new camera for fear that I would have issues with unfamiliar features. Coincidence #1. I decided to add a comment to that effect on Cole's blog post.
Imagine my surprise when a few hours later I received a personal e-mail response from Cole (and asking about me!). Anyway, we exchanged a few more e-mails, and got onto the subject of finding one's vision (something that I had admitted that I am still working on), and Cole sent me a link to one of his earlier blog entries on that very subject. This page had a black & white image from Zabriskie Point as it's header.
At the time that I received this last e-mail, I was actually working on processing my photos from Death Valley, and had just been looking through my shots from Zabriskie Point. Believe it or not, one of those images that I had literally just been looking at a few moments earlier was a shot of Manly Beacon with almost identical framing to Cole's image in that blog post. Coincidence #2. But, while I liked my capture, it didn't quite have the good colour of some of my other shots. Seeing this image from Cole prompted me to try black & white processing for my photo, and this is the resulting image.
So, what do I think of my photo? Is my image a blatant copy of Cole's?
Well, the framing is undoubtedly very close, as I said, although in my defence, I did not remember having seen Cole's image before taking mine. To me, the composition itself is a fairly standard framing of this landmark, especially if one follows the dreaded rule of thirds. I am sure there are many shots out there with the same composition. Also, the processing does appear very alike at first glance. I personally think it is a little different (the background sky and mountains). And, I assure you I did not intentionally set out to copy his style, not looking back at his version once I decided to proceed with monochrome.
On the other hand, with the sequence of coincidences leading up to this, I tend to think I was destined to make this black & white image. Maybe I just needed to do it as part of the learning process? To see what is possible? And to show myself the value of looking for my own shot?
In the end, while I do like the resulting image, I don't think it is my best shot from two visits to Zabriskie Point on the Death Valley trip. In that sense, it gives me the confidence to trust my own instincts and to follow my vision. I am sure I would be more proud of it if I had not seen Cole's previous work (and I certainly wouldn't have felt the need to write this long blog post justifying my work :^P ).
But, more to the point, what I think it does show is that looking at other artist's work does heavily influence one's own vision. The evidence is easy to see! I can see why Cole advocates avoiding browsing other's photos. Personally, while still learning the photography craft as I am, there is value in studying the work of others, but I think I will try to not spend too much time doing so.
Thankfully, my own personal favourites tend to be mostly those that are a little different from anything I have seen before. I guess that is my contrary attitude showing through. There is still hope for me!^)
So, here's to photographic celibacy! I solemnly promise to only look at other's work for momentary inspiration, and not to copy.
And, of course, thanks to Cole Thompson for being an inspiration and teacher.