There is a very fascinating dispute taking place over the infringement of creativity and originality between two photographers, Sze Tsung Leong and David Burdeny. I have written about Leong several times on this blog and he is one of my favorite photographers, not just for the style of his images, but also for his philosophy and approach to creating a body of work.I first saw Leong's Horizon series in the spring of 2008 at Yossi Milo in New York City, and several months later discovered his essay A Picture You Already Know. These photographs and essay were highly influential on my personal work and helped me shape my views on the importance of sequence and series in photography.
"Perhaps this is why working in series is so important to photography, for to shape a personal vision requires revisiting a subject over many images to create a more focused and particular view, rather than relying on the unique aspects of a single image. In other words, photography is particularly suited to the accumulation of and relationships between many images, rather than to the specific imprint on the individual image, to create a unique vision or outlook"
Sze Tsung Leong from A Picture You Already Know (2007)
The current dispute involves an exhibit of Burdeny's work in Vancouver in which many of the images are strikingly similar to Leong's. Take a look at several examples below...
River Seine. Leong 2006
River Seine. Burdeny 2009
Pyramid. Leong 2007
Pyramid. Burdeny 2009
Canal. Leong 2007
Canal. Burdeny 2009
Leong and Yossi Milo have cried foul, copyright infringement, and all sorts of other nasty accusations at Burdeny. Burdeny denies any infringement and denies any influence from Leong's work at all. It's all He said, He said for the most part, with a continuous circular argument in my opinion.
I just do not see any validity in Leong's argument. These are very public and popular vantage points, photographed not just by art photographers, but by thousands of tourists with point and shoot cameras and cell phones. Does Burdeny look a bit foolish presenting images so similar in feel and concept to Leong's? Absolutely. He loses credibility points for originality. But copyright infringement? Since when does anyone have exclusive rights to shoot a photograph from a particular spot on earth? How many painters have set up their easels on the same iconic spots throughout history? Two painters could each create a work from the exact same vantage point and the resulting pieces would be very distinct due to the individual style and hand of each painter. Due to the mechanical reproduction of a camera, two photographs taken from the same spot will certainly have overwhelming similarities. Look at these images again and see that the only vital differences are those created outside the photographer's control; namely lighting and seasonal changes.
This is mostly about money. Leong's photographs sell for up to $25,000 each. Burdeny's sell for up to $10,500 each. Does Burdeny's lack of originality dilute the value of Leong's work in the market? This speaks so strongly to the issues of photographs as high valued fine art. Ansel Adams wrote volumes describing every detail of his working techniques and secrets of his craft. Very few could come close to his technical perfection, and those who did are not accused of copyright infringement. How many photographers ventured into Canyon de Chelly, or made pilgrimages to Ranchos de Taos Church? The highest level images from these locations didn't dilute the value of the fine art photography market.
Did David Burdeny copy Sze Tsung Leong's photographs?
David Burdeny website
Sze Tsung Leong website