Glen Goffin Photography

Monday, June 8, 2009

52 When to Sign Your Work

I discovered a thought-provoking article by Ted Byrne today. My thanks to him for challenging my sensibilities. Oh ... yes ... and for providing me a nice topic to write about ... hehe.

Having said that, I think I disagree with him :)

**** Author's Warning
Long term exposure to this article may cause elevated blood pressure, acid reflux and marital distress. Warning signs include:
- failure to laugh, chuckle, snort or giggle
- incapacity to pronounce the name "Glen" without foam or spittle
- uncontrolled outbursts of "that idiot!" or "clueless goof!"

Ted raises the question of credit and it's relation to proportion. That is to say, proportion of contribution to a final work between subject, tool maker and artist and who deserves credit for what? It is a rare work indeed that does not include some element of a real subject even if abstracted. So most, if not all works include at least these three contributors.

Let's take an easy example. If I create a faithful copy of a Jackson Pollack, should my signature be on that image? So far, Ted and I agree. The artwork is Pollack's, not mine. As Ted admonishes, it would be vulgar of me to take credit for that artwork.

Now, what if I had made that faithful copy using colored beads glued to the side of a skyscraper 200 feet in the air? Or hand-dyed dog hair and sea-glass pasted to the side of my car? It could be argued that that is craftsmanship ... not artistry. Should it be signed by me?

Is there a difference between 'taking' and 'making' a picture? How much does a photographer have to do to 'make' a picture? Or what measure of influence must a photographer exert for the work to become "theirs"?

These questions hit close to home for us macro-n-nature-photography-enthusiasts. Let's call them manaphothusiasts for short. Or, better, manic-phothusiasts. If you like landscapes, too ... well then you'd be a lanamanic-phothusiast ... uhh ... duhhh. Do LPs actually contribute artistically or simply render flowers, rocks and trees on pieces of paper and liquified crystals?

First, I recommend reading Ted's essay directly rather than my interpretation. It's located here:

Is it worth asking - what does signing your work mean? Is it any different than giving credits to a photographer? Clearly, it is. It says, "this is mine".

Not one to shy away from controversy, I've listed some rhetorical and intentionally irritating questions -
1. Should we add credits for every subject we ever take (model name, building name, architect, etc).
2. Is photography ever true creation or always manipulation of something previously created?
3. When is there enough contribution to call it 'ours'?

Those are softball issues. Old hat. Photography 101. Let's get serious ...

1. Photojournalists often only have an instant of time to point and click. Did they really contribute to the image?
2. Some of the best photographers need little to no post-processing (other than adding their watermark, that is :) Did they really do any work?
3. Should your child have signed his popsicle stick picture frame ... even though the teacher bought all the supplies and told him everything to do? He certainly didn't make the popsicle sticks or the glue.
4. Do I want to know who took my mom's childhood photograph ... yeah, I do. I already recognize my mom.

The final analysis ... artistry is about choices. Choices include what to shoot, when to shoot, how to shoot. Just because two people might shoot the same thing the same way doesn't mean there wasn't artistry involved. It simply means that that artistry is of a more common breed.

In the end, it's really quite simple. Give credit where credit is due and add a double dose of humility.

Interestingly, as a Christian, I see this issue in a broader context. It relates to what the root of sin actually is. That is to say, mankind pridefully taking credit for the things that belong to God alone.

For more opportunity to scoff and/or foam see my other (tongue-in-cheek) article on photographic abstractionism.

Oh ... and one last thought before I go. There is another reason not to sign an image ... when it stinks :)

Peace and love,


Ángel Corrochano said...

Wonderful light with magical reflections on the trees. The detail of the flag surrendering to the calidez of the dusk. Fantastic.


Soiamastone said...

The flag is amazing in the image.
We said the pledge of allegiance today before graduation. So thankful it is still under God.
I agree, so many things to think about on the whole subject of Art.
I really haven't thought much about it until now. But, I agree with giving credit where credit is due.

Glen Goffin said...

Did you graduate today, Jules? Or just watching?

Soiamastone said...

No, my son Matthew graduated from the 5th grade:)

Debra Trean said...

I like the image very much and think I too have tried to figure if I should or should not sign work so I hear ya and I am not sure either.

Glen Goffin said...

Awww, Jules, what sweet moments those are!!!

Deb - I've begun to use my signature as a graphic element of my work ... kind of a style element. That solves that, hehehe. Like in this picture I put myself sitting quietly under the tree enjoying the coming of the dawn :) Thanks for your thoughtful comments!!

Mouse Vision, Eagle Vision said...

(Oops--sorry about the previous blank comment--haven't done this before [and please don't go to my blog as a friend is constructing it and I don't like it thus far!].)

Ted's much too wordy article was interesting, but...I disagree somewhat. The camera doesn't take the photo any more than a paintbrush paints a painting.

And though I am not a Christian, like you I feel there is also the spiritual sense to it all; I have always believed that my creative abilities are a gift of the gods, therefore credit belongs to the Universe.

What makes art unique, to me, is that that universal energy is filtered through the individual, who colors it with her/his being. Thus, the photograph you take will be different from mine.

So why sign anything? I don't know! I've copyrighted things I've written, and as I take more photos this issue has arisen for me.

I've come to the conclusion that putting a discreet watermark in one corner of the image (not right in the middle, please! as I've seen some people do) might not be bad idea. It won't deter anyone who wants to "steal" (represent as theirs? use without credit? sell with giving one the proceeds?) the image--they could just cut out the corner, or, I assume, with current software someone must have figured out how to remove watermarks.

No, I think the point, in part, is to let people know that the work is not in the public domain, and it came from someone's specific POV, and that person is proud enough of their work to claim responsibility.

And I like your last comment--if it stinks, I don't want anyone to see it! Not only am I not going to sign it, I'm going to hit the delete button!

Ruth Lyons

Glen Goffin said...

Ruth, what thoughtful and stimulating comments. I'm grateful to readers like you who spend the time to comment. I think a watermark can serve many different purposes not the least of which is to protect the author's rights to the image. And, in that regard, I agree they could be very discreet. I have begun using my watermark as an artistic element of my images meant to make them more impacting. Whether that is successful, I don't know yet. I'm still experimenting there. I've always loved posters. I love the old Toulouse Latrec posters and the graphic text actually accentuates the images sometimes.

Thanks again for such great comments. Peace :) Glen