Originality is Nothing but Undetected Plagiarism.
“What is originality? Undetected Plagiarism.” – William Ralph Inge
Before I first started using my DSLR camera, I had already gone through thousands of pictures on Google Images and Shutterstock. Nowadays, I find myself burdened with the concept of originality: my unique style. But three years ago I was excited just to find some cool image on the internet and recreate it inside my neighborhood. I started off by taking pictures of cats, fire, and flowers. I clicked this photo of a cat and a kitten within one year of getting started with photography. I didn’t care about exposure or photography composition. I was not trying to capture a phenomenal moment. I was just frustrated with myself that I hadn’t clicked any photos in the last few weeks, and I saw them playing in the backyard – so I started taking photos. In fact, the shot was underexposed and I almost deleted it from the camera. Fortunately, I didn’t. I adjusted the exposure during post-processing and later on submitted this image to some local photography competitions. Very unexpectedly, this photo did bring me some appreciation.
Last year I saw a YouTube video called ‘The Art of the Image’ where Art Wolfe shared the images he took of the walls of old buildings in India. That was a new perspective for me. The next time I went out with my camera, I clicked this photograph. It was not like anything I had captured earlier. But after that, I had clicked several photos like this.
Are these photos original? Yes and no. Yes, because none of these photos is directly copied from some other photograph published earlier. No, because these photos were inspired by similar photographs published earlier.
Austin Kleon wrote in his book STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST, “What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.” I can’t be charged with plagiarism for these two photographs, but these photographs were inspired by other people’s works. Kleon says that artists and people doing creative stuff are constantly creating hybrids of the ideas that were here before them by taking references and turning them into something new, “reanimating them.”
Even after having all this knowledge, I often push myself to try to build a work that has never been built. This article is just a reminder to me to embrace the fact that there is nothing new under this sun. As the French author, André Gide says, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” My work doesn’t need to be original to qualify as creative. My work just needs to connect the dots between the works before me in a different way.