When Carbon Copies Fade
March 11, 2020 7:35 PM   Subscribe

Yeah...I don't know any of these people, and maybe the accused photographer has a history of misconduct to give more context, but I was really expecting much greater similarity from the introduction. The few where the composition truly seems closely similar (e.g., the rusted ship) are also ones where there's an obvious striking subject that probably everyone who's been to that area has photographed. I can understand why the other photographer has some frustration, but I don't see how anyone with a modest familiarity with photography would call these "practically copies."
posted by praemunire at 7:49 PM on March 11, 2020 [10 favorites]

Yeah, this is really unconvincing, particularly when you see like a dozen other photographers have taken similar photos in the tea room that the accusatory blog assures us is very remote and even locals don't know about it.
posted by tocts at 7:54 PM on March 11, 2020 [14 favorites]

That's not plagarism, that's people photographing an area landmark (ferry at dried up dock) and commonly accessible places/ local activities. I know of one semi off the beaten path boat wreck that shows up on my instagram feed probably twice a week- different photographers every time. Same with popular bars and restaurants or beaches or what have you. The planet is crawling with photographers.

I get that the Iranian photographer feels a closer personal connection but this seems like a pretty cynical (and successful!) way to draw attention to her work.
posted by fshgrl at 8:08 PM on March 11, 2020 [7 favorites]

It's a little too close for comfort, and sort of obvious. I don't know if it's plagiarism, per se, but it seems shitty because he didn't credit her in the least.

It's the photographer equivalent of a cover song, if the band passed it off as one of their own.
posted by explosion at 8:39 PM on March 11, 2020 [6 favorites]

It’s not any single photo, it’s the collection as a whole that’s problematic to my eye.

Sure, everyone takes a photo of that boat. But repeat that 10 times to varying degrees and it starts to form a suspicious pattern.

Mann’s photos are very different in quality though. I don’t know anything about the world of contemporary highbrow art photography but they look almost like someone leaned on some sliders in photoshop a bit too hard. I like them well enough but they sure aren’t subtle.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:02 PM on March 11, 2020 [10 favorites]

This is how it often plays out, isn't it?

World Press Photo Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Maximilian Mann is a male German photographer who was in Iran three times. Solmaz Daryani is an female Iranian photographer who has a personal connection to Lake Urmia.

Proximity to the award-givers is usually as important or more important than other factors. It's a European prize, the nominee is a European man, never mind his photographs look like the ones taken by an Iranian woman who has a connection to the area.

The tastemakers reward those who they want to see.

Look at how "American Dirt," written by a white woman, was hailed as a seminal account of the Latin American migrant experience.
posted by Borborygmus at 9:40 PM on March 11, 2020 [15 favorites]

Sending in a bunch of photos by other photographers that also look exactly like his “winning” photos is really wild to me, as a photographer. “Look, I’m taking the same photos as all of these other people.”
posted by jeweled accumulation at 10:34 PM on March 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

"Plagiarism" is for writers, the metaphor doesn't hold up well when applied to photography. You can look at any location tag on Instagram and see the same image taken a million times by a million people. Who claims it? The first person to go there and push the button? That's the nature of photography and especially documentary work - these aren't constructed scenes. It's not the same as a sentence or a painting.

It's pretty clear clicking through both projects that they are very different in nature despite dealing with the same subject matter. I think Daryani does her work a disservice by focusing on superficial similarities (what photographer would walk past that boat and not take a similar photo?) when her project is obviously very personal and different. That's what makes her project interesting, she took the same landmarks and types of scenes anyone would shoot there and put it in a personal context. Mann's work presented here is obviously a laser focused submission designed to hit all the WPP cliches (not a bad thing if you are trying to win one of these awards) from the high contrast style to the obvious journalism banalities. Some of the images are really nice, but no new ground is being tread here.

But I think that's the real issue with both, they are both dealing in the cliches of their documentary genre. Backlit workers shoveling salt, a dried up boat dock, kids playing in the dust of a dying region, traditional cultures but now with selfie sticks, etc. You can see similar images every day in most newspapers.

I always find the WPP submissions - and the inevitable "controversy" every single year - pretty boring.
posted by bradbane at 10:55 PM on March 11, 2020 [30 favorites]

The tastemakers reward those who they want to see.

When they judge these things the work doesn't have names or other info attached. Back in the day you would have to submit unlabeled mounted slides.

"All entries are coded, with identifying information removed from the pictures so the work is judged anonymously. At no stage of the process - and in no discussion either in or outside the judging rooms - should jury members speculate on, or reveal, any names of participating photographers" Judging process
posted by bradbane at 11:40 PM on March 11, 2020 [12 favorites]

Those pictures aren’t the same at all. It’s an odd place with a particular look, and any similarity is down to the location.
posted by w0mbat at 2:11 AM on March 12, 2020

the pictures look so similar, but Daryani's are so much better
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:14 AM on March 12, 2020

Are we looking at the same pictures? To me it seems obvious that Mann's are better but hey, opinions eh?
posted by Kosmob0t at 4:07 AM on March 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

Mann's are often better in the technical aspect of framing but his reliance on geometric perfection and balance detracts from the human aspects of the images. Daryani's images feel personal, and as the story is personal, hers feel superior to me. In visual art, imperfection is not always imperfect.

Anyway, yeah, it seems pretty clear to me that he saw her stuff and created a shot list thinking, like men often do, "I can do this better." Wrong.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:48 AM on March 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is a tricky one, I don't think the accusations of plagarism hold any water, but I do think Daryani's photos are better.
I'm not at all surprised that Mann is nominated in the competition, I don't think I have ever seen a photo competition where the winner was something I considered the best photo.

Also Mann took 11,000 photos over 8 weeks, that's 200 pictures per day, if he shot for 10 hours a day that is one photo every 3 minutes, just goes to show that quantity doesnt equal quality.
posted by Lanark at 5:19 AM on March 12, 2020

From the final link above:
During this time I visited countless places together with my local translator and fixer, Mahdi Zavvar. I took more than 11,000 pictures while I was there.
If someone produces 11,000 anything, some are bound to have some resemblance others’ works. Mann goes on to show photos from eight different photographers with eight views of the ferry beached at the end of the dry pier. There are only so many ways to depict any landmark. I don’t take many photos any more but if I had seen that ferry, e.g., I am positive I would have produced substantially the same photo.

As several mefites have said above, the notions of “plagiarism” and “photography” are kind of orthogonal. If they did have a more ready connection, I would love to see a case brought by the first photographer who ever got a friend to mime holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:20 AM on March 12, 2020

Daryani's photos seem comparatively blah to me.

But there's a built-in disadvantage: Mann's photos were selected for being the good shots, but Daryani's photos (the ones here) were selected for being similar to Mann's good shots.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 5:52 AM on March 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

I came to the post and looked at the first article expecting to be all "grar" about a white dude from a privileged country ripping off a woman from a less-advantaged one, but I have to conclude the accusation of plagiarism doesn't hold water here. His defence, especially when he shows how many people have taken very similar shots, is pretty convincing.

Part of me understands the frustration Daryani must feel, though, when the white dude's photos are the ones that end up getting all the attention. It's clear she is also an excellent photographer, but how many of us would never have seen her work if it weren't for this situation?
posted by rpfields at 7:18 AM on March 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not to specifically knock on either Daryani or Mann's work here, but I am seriously getting bored with the whole Documentary Photography genre in general. It seems like every project is the same these days: the same rural community in decline narrative, the same overexposed-Portra look. There still is a lot of important and compelling work being done (which these projects might be), but I would love to see something new and different.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:21 AM on March 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

People have spoken about the must-shoot photo of the boat by the pier, but honestly this looks like the kind of place where very little happens, so people going and standing by the lake in small groups, or boys kicking a soccer ball around on the dry lake bed are likely the biggest and most obvious event in town.

Oh, is somebody picking apricots? That's also the only thing going on. It's what the soccer playing boys do for the rest of their lives, after they've gone on dates walking along the salt lake (where there's that view of the old boat and an interesting cliff) and then gotten married.

Later, they drink tea in a rustic old tea house when they're old men.

A fair chunk of the world is pretty much exactly like this, just transcribed with different local attractions and different food being grown. The boys playing soccer is almost universal (cricket in the subcontinent, though).
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:31 AM on March 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Are we looking at the same pictures? To me it seems obvious that Mann's are better but hey, opinions eh?

I think Mann's images are obviously stronger on an individual image basis, at least when put side by side like this, but part of the problem is Daryani's work is in very serious need of a ruthless edit. 66 images in one online gallery for one body of work, that's more than most photo books contain. Most photographers are terrible editors so that's not a knock on her ability. Her images obviously benefit from context, but that's getting lost in the sheer number of images she presents. At least half these images could be cut. That's the biggest difference to me when looking at the projects themselves: Mann obviously had an image limit for this submission so he has culled it down to something more cohesive, Daryani's project is good but it's lacking in focus in it's current presentation.
posted by bradbane at 10:20 AM on March 12, 2020

I really expected to be sympathetic here, but given that they were both photographing the same phenomenon in the same area, I don’t find most of those photos to be substantially similar at all. I don’t see any more similarity between the two sets of photos than I would expect for any two projects documenting the area, especially for two photographers with a somewhat similar aesthetic. And the soft, desaturated colors have been a photographic trend for quite a while, so that similarity doesn’t seem significant to me either.

I feel like the blog post comparing the two is mistaking similarity in subject matter for similarity in composition in a lot of cases. The photo picking fruit is a great example of this. Yes, both photos have human figures framed by trees. Both show a person in a similar posture. But that’s ... what picking fruit in an orchard looks like. Everything else about those compositions is completely different! One shows us a focus on a specific person, peeking through the leaves. The other shows us a group working together, and is framed looking down the rows.

There are maybe one or two photos that are substantially similar, but that seems well within what could be explained by coincidence. I think the bar for claiming “plagiarism” is much higher than what’s seen here, and I’m really struggling not to do a ranty shot-by-shot rebuttal.

I think they’re both skilled photographers documenting the same thing, and it’s really unfortunate that their work is being pitted against each other.
posted by duien at 11:30 AM on March 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

This is how it often plays out, isn't it?

World Press Photo Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Maximilian Mann is a male German photographer who was in Iran three times. Solmaz Daryani is an female Iranian photographer who has a personal connection to Lake Urmia.

Proximity to the award-givers is usually as important or more important than other factors. It's a European prize, the nominee is a European man, never mind his photographs look like the ones taken by an Iranian woman who has a connection to the area.

The tastemakers reward those who they want to see.

Except she also lives in Europe and is a reasonably well known photographer who got a grant from Magnum Photo to do her photo essay in the first place. No bigger taste maker than Magnum. And she didnt enter her essay into this competition so the judges never saw her images and even if they had its an anonymous competition. But hey, nice story.

The issue here is more one of photographers slavishly reproducing images they see online and flocking to a few places in huge numbers. People now hide locations of their photos routinely to prevent this. Personally I don't see that here as National Geographic has already done a spread on this a few years ago so has the Guardian and other big media outlets and it's huge newa this lake drying up so its not like peiple could only learn about the area via her project.
posted by fshgrl at 11:49 AM on March 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’m really struggling not to do a ranty shot-by-shot rebuttal.

Yeah, that was my challenge earlier.

But to do just one extremely obvious one (thanks for covering the orchard):

A guy on a truck apparently shovelling salt off the truck for some unknown reason (maybe he's rearranging the load and some is spilling?) is nothing like a group loading up big chaff bags of salt with shovels.

The only similarity is that there are humans doing what humans have done since neolithic times, i.e. harvesting salt from where there's a ready supply. Big surprise, a drying up salt lake has salt to collect...and it tends to make for nice photos.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:37 PM on March 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've never been to this region so tough to judge how stereotypical or "everyone takes that photo" the two sets of images are. To me they look about as similar as if the two photographers had both visited Yellowstone and ended up with versions of the iconic sites within. Modern photography allows for so very many images to be taken that it is inevitable that there will be this sort of apparently copied image just by random chance even if you extend it to several images (especially considering the similar images would by their nature be cherry picked out of hundreds/thousands of images). There is probably some variant of the birthday paradox at work as well.

In an extreme example two photographers have taken identical photos of the same iconic lighthouse without even trying at the exact same millisecond (near as can be figured).
posted by Mitheral at 11:23 PM on March 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

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