Exactly when creative inspiration turns to in-your-face theft can sometimes be a grey zone. But then there are occasions when all debate is removed.
Of course there are those who say that imitation is the highest form of flattery but that’s garbage, when it looks like theft, tastes like theft and smells like theft – then guess what?
The May 2008 cover shoot for British Elle featured Madonna as Cowboy Kate. This wasn’t a case of ‘influence’ – dipping into my books for a spark of inspiration or developing an idea or a variation on a theme – this was plain stealing.
Photograph by Tom Munro
One monitor in the studio was plastered with images from my books including the iconic shot of Kate with her black hat over one eye and next to it another monitor with the copies – literally an identical copy of Kate, live digital images of Madonna from Tom Munro’s camera. This is as brazen an example of photographic plagiarism – straight forward stealing – as you will ever see.
Three centre photographs by Sam Haskins
Cowboy Kate by Sam Haskins
Madonna as Kate by Tom Munro
In the video below, the Oscar nominated Hollywood stylist and costumer, Arianne Phillips holds forth on “the concept” of the shoot without mentioning Sam Haskins or Cowboy Kate at all. The commissioning magazine Elle also stays silent in print and online. The photographer Tom Munro who, (at the time of writing ) has a Cowboy Kate rip-off image on his website cannot find the honesty to give credit. Many of his photographs are very ‘reminiscent’ of my work as well as that of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Sarah Moon and on occasion, David Hamilton.
The only person to emerge from this graceless – ‘I’m-so-cool-I-can-laugh-off-my-thieving’ – with their professional integrity intact, is Madonna’s Make-up artist Gina Brooke, the artistic director of Shu Uemura. She mentioned in an online interview (published just after the May 2008 issue of Elle went on sale) that she regularly turns to my work for inspiration.
One cannot help wondering; Why work so hard to copy a living photographer? Why not just hire him or her to do the job! The copies are always second rate. Great photographers do not allow themselves to be prostituted into plagiarism.
Or better still, why on earth don’t these stylists, creative directors and photographers come up with some ideas of their own. There are infinite new fresh ideas out there. Idea theft is a disease among certain players in the business – its time the editors, if they weren’t so complicit in the process, put a stop to it.
Lighting and Image Theft
Its noticeable that the first thing that gets screwed when photographers steal image ideas is lighting. They don’t even begin to appreciate how much of the original mood and design was down to lighting.
To illustrate the point, here’s one of the shots by Tom Munro from the Elle shoot and the original below.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants – its fundamental to the history of art. We have all been influenced by our contemporary colleagues and the great figures of history but it should be done with full knowledge and respect. Especially when influence is explicit, paying homage indirectly is not enough.
I have had my work relentlessly copied for the past 47 years but this is outrageous! And yet, I would be happy to let it pass with a smile and a shrug if there was the simple common decency of a credit.