The Shoulders of Giants

July 26th, 2012

I remember a photog proudly posting his recreation of Minkkinen’s self-portrait on deviantArt and getting ripped a new one for plagiarism. As Charles Caleb Colton famously said, “imitation is the sincerest of flattery,” and copying the work of the masters is a time-honored method of honing one’s craft. The poor guy simply forgot to mention that that was what he was doing. And so here I officially state that I have been influenced by other artists. Duh.

In one of my first, tremulous shoots with a living, breathing human I looked to some of the photographers I admire for inspiration. I did this in advance of the shoot, adjusted limbs in comparison during the shoot, and gave credit afterwards.

Helmut Newton, “Ornella Muti, Como,” 1986 (left), and Michael Singman-Aste, “Lesley (after Newton),” 2009

A huge part of the reason artists create art is because they love art. So they consume vast quantities of it. They are gluttons for it. After awhile they internalize it and it becomes part of them.

A few years ago I was admiring the pattern on the edge of my windshield, and recognized that it would make a cool pic. So I photographed it, filled it in with high opacity from the sky in the background, and was pleased with the result. Months later I walked down the stairs in the building at my day job, kicked open the door, and noticed Joan Miró’s “Bleu II” on the wall. Damn. Had I seen Miro’s work before? Probably. Was it a complete coincidence? Maybe. Did I rip it off intentionally? No way.

Joan Miró’s, “Bleu II,” 1961 (left) and Michael Singman-Aste, “AS1,” 2009

When I was photographing the Alameda Naval Station for the Frank Bette Center for the Arts‘ annual Alameda on Camera competition I spent a fantastic day at the Alameda Naval Air Museum. Overshadowed by the USS Hornet less than a mile away, the docents couldn’t have been happier with the attention. I put together a collage of images from that day, and gifted it to the museum. Later I came across a similar image by Nickolas Muray. Oops, did I do it again? Nah.

Nickolas Muray, “Soldiers of the Sky, 1940 (left), and Michael Singman-Aste, “They Could Do It,” 2009

Professor Kenney Mencher recently posted images of Goya’s “The Third of May 1808” (1814) and Picasso’s “Guernica” (1937) side-by-side on his Facebook page for his students to compare. He asked the (almost certainly rhetorical) question, “is he copying or referencing him?” Of course it’s a reference. It’s an homage.

We consume art, books, food, etc. and we are informed and transformed by it. As a part of us, it influences us. The more familiar you are with art history the more images in your daily life will resonate with you as artistic. Weston said that art is in the selection, and maybe you wouldn’t select a particular scene if you hadn’t seen something vaguely similar rendered successfully by another artist. So when I saw a broken pickle jar at the grocery store I immediately thought of  Ed Ruscha’s “Hey.”

“Hey,” Ed Ruscha, 1968-9 (left) and “Oops (Pickles, after Ruscha),” Michael Singman-Aste, 2012

And when I was out for drinks with friends the other night I recognized that they looked spiffy, and photogenic, and that they reminded me of Cartier-Bresson’s photo of Gustave Le Clézio and his wife. So I snapped their pic.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photo of Gustave Le Clézio, 1965 (left) and “Date Night (after Cartier-Bresson),” Michael Singman-Aste, 2012.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Go with it. Just cite your sources. It’s standing on the shoulders of giants. (See? I just cited my source.) Emulate to your heart’s content and take it to the next level if you can. And, for art’s sake, enjoy yourself.

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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One response to “The Shoulders of Giants”

  1. LJV says:

    Very cool.
    And you obviously have a WAY better memory than the rest of us, who do this subconsciously, unable to site the source OR find the accompanying photo. Impressive.
    Oh, and nice cleavage, if I do say so myself. But I credit the photographer. 🙂

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