Why you shouldn’t copy photographers Terry Richardson or Juergen Teller
Ok. So before you choke on your camera cards and start writing me to tell me how ignorant I am, let me explain.
First of all, I like Richardson‘s and Teller‘s work. I think their work is provocative and eminently stylish. They’re able to consistently evoke a look from their models and bring a feel to the shoot, of which most photographers could only dream. The technical aspect of photography becomes secondary, while at the same time, bringing a raw and gritty feel to the images. You never get the feeling that anything is ever “fake” in one of their photos — everything is real.
A lot of would-be photographers have said (or have undoubtedly thought to themselves), ‘wow, that looks easy…just use an on-camera flash and put a half-naked model/friend/celebrity in front of a white wall, or in some random room…and let the magic happen!‘
The argument reminds me of the reaction most people give when they see a Rothko painting. It’s usually “I could have done that!” Or even worse “My kid could have done that!!” Yes, probably you could…but you didn’t. And therein lies the key to why Richardson and Teller are wildly successful.
Without originality you’re nothing more than a camera technician, and not an artist. An artist ask him/herself, what is it that I’m bringing to this photograph? Are you experimenting and trying to learn how to achieve a certain “effect” in order broaden your knowledge? Certainly a valid argument. Except in this case the “effect” lies in the interactions between the photographer and the subject, not their technical prowess and mastery of photographic technique. So, what are you practising? What are you trying to achieve?
Pablo Picasso allegedly said “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” (I say allegedly because this is in fact an unsourced quote.) But certainly, if you do copy, be better than Terry or Juergen and bring your own originality to the image.
So the next time you want to shoot like Terry Richardson or Juergen Teller, go ahead…but don’t even think of putting those shots in your portfolio and taking them to an agency to get booked. You’ll probably get the same type of reaction I’d get if I were to copy a Rothko and ask a gallery to buy it for a few million dollars and hang it prominently, for all to see.
Until next time.
J R BERNSTEIN
Remember your ABC’s – Always Be Capturing!