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storytellers

Questions of Copyright and Value: Where Does Inspiration Come From?

By Dan Sohner

Have you ever had an idea stolen? Copied maybe? It’s not a particularly great feeling. But now imagine that that idea ends up on the cover of, let’s say, National Geographic.

Photographer Tim Kemple has something to say about that. In short, Kemple made an image of an iconic rock climber on an iconic rock climb and another photographer, Jimmy Chin, made a nearly identical image, which he sold to National Geographic.

Jimmy Chin's image:

national_geographic_image
national_geographic_image

Tim Kemple's image:

tim_kemple_image
tim_kemple_image

You can imagine the conversation that happened. Mr. Kemple wasn’t very happy and Mr. Chin didn’t seem to see anything wrong.

Where does copyright begin and end? What is intellectual property, really? Is this ethical?

Where does inspiration truly come from?

As a creative person, I think it is sometimes hard to ask yourself where an idea came from or why you decided to create something in a certain way. When you start asking those questions, you start to discover your personal style, which then inevitably relates directly back to everything in this world which inspires you and has most likely inspired someone else at some point.

One of the hardest things we have to face as creatives is constantly figuring out how to stay relevant, fresh and innovative. It can be difficult to maintain uniqueness when there is such a saturation of content these days. But is the issue really about the physical production of a similar image, or is it more about the idea of something you made and believe is truly unique being recreated? Does this lessen the value of the unique way you see the world?

It is up to us as creatives to draw our own boundaries and direct the evolution of photography and video production in the manor we see fit because the conversations that arise are serving to shape our social values as a whole.

When producing content for clients, we have to make sure we can evolve the conversation while still maintaing the point and integrity of the story. As storytellers we give voice to those who may not have had the opportunity to share, and their voice is what inspires us to continue developing content. Even if the story we're telling has already been told, maybe it hasn't been told in this particular way by this particular person, and that interviewee getting their voice and message heard is what matters.

I think the point of visual storytelling, whether it's through photography or videography, is to present a platform that helps us all evolve the way we understand the world around us. We have to build off of things people can relate to and in doing that, have to accept the fact that some inspiration is borrowed. We have to tap into the collective conscience in order to build off of what has previously been done.

Shared experiences, like the ones we share through media, are some of the most powerful things we can feel as humans, only to be trumped, of course, by having an image on the cover of National Geographic…