<<< o >>>(re)presenting graffiti 44 comments + add yours

Tobias made an interesting point yesterday, when he commented on my entry:

"I mean a Banksy image (www.banksy.co.uk) is considered art but you wouldn’t post it as a photograph on your site because that would be considered plagerism"

And I assume that this can be applied more generally: graffiti is art, therefore its reproduction is a form of plagiarism – claiming somebody else's work as your own. Now, and this is an issue that's been raised before on chromasia, clearly I don't hold this view – if I did I wouldn't post this sort of stuff – but I thought it was probably something that we could discuss. Is it theft/plagiarism, is it simply a form of documentation, is it something else? I'll write more about my own views – either in the comments or on tomorrow's entry (another graffiti shot) – but I'd be grateful if you could let me know what you think.

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3.42pm on 24/9/05
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3x2 + graffiti
comment by Jem at 06:18 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

I love Grafitti when it's done well, and isn't just intended as vandalism. There are some great graffiti artists out there - I love the girl on the left! :)

comment by owen at 06:38 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

Dave, good question. I think that as long as the original artist is credited (if known) then it shoudn't be a problem. After all, most grafitti features a tag or other trademark of some kind. Banksy's images are usually very distinctive. We all know that you are a photographer, not a grafitti artist, so how can this be plagiarism?

comment by RSN at 06:41 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

I agree that a photograph of graffiti does not in and of itself constitute plagiarism. Perhaps it's over-simplified, but if you were to make a photo of garden topiary or architecture, each designed by someone else, you would not be accused of plagiarism. If you were to present the photo with the explicit statement that "I painted this graffiti," perhaps there's an argument to be made.

In the end, every photograph of that graffiti will be enhanced somehow by the photographer. Whether it's in the framing or the lighting or the exposure or the post-processing, the original is somehow altered. A photographic image only represents the graffiti.

comment by tobias at 06:51 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

My point would be that a straight shot of an image is not interpreting it in a way that puts your own mark on it any more than than the original artists. My view remains the same for this I'm afraid.

With regard to Banksy, I only cited him as example as I like his work, I have all of his little books but I wouldn't wish to replicate his work. This image may document someones work but only in that it is an image. No more, you have no personal relationship with this artist, you know and relate nothing of his work, history, effort involved in his progress. Is this any different to photographing a piece of work in a gallery? Maybe, in that you would at least have an insight into what drives that person.

Here with this and yesterdays image, no more depth/insight is added so the documentational aspect seems to fall rather short. Documentation, in my view should be backed by more than an image adding a depth for use to future generations, if that is what you mean.

Still looking for that frequency...

comment by Jadhu at 07:06 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

I like this shot, but it looks a little flat, may be it's because the texture in the brick and wood pannels are not showing up as they usually do in all your other photos...I love your work and I check it daily!!!

comment by owen b at 07:09 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

Well now, all those who consider this 'merely' a reproduction of someone elses work, and therefore plagiarism. this is NOT just one persons work here, nor is it ONE work at all. There appears to be a collection of different pieces of imagery here. Some are sprayed graffiti artwork, some are what appear to be remains of billposters, some are mere tags that personally I would consider vandalism unless they are associated with a larger, more worthy piece (and I can't tell if they here, so I reserve judgement on ALOE and ATG).

Also this has been shot in such a way as to define vertical stripes of texture. It IS selective and therefore it IS a personal documentation. If there was just one piece and it took up the whole frame then it would not be personal. If it were one piece and one bit of it was selected for a closeup then again it would be personal and 'allowed'.

Personally, the fact that the contents are all someone elses creation detract from my usual enjoyment of a chromasia shot. I don't consider this plagiarism, but I don't see the usual unique perspective that I come to chromasia for, only the lovely processing that I come here for.

comment by dcr at 07:31 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

Very interesting question/topic. I tend agree with Owen. If this were a shot of a single work created by one person it would come close to the plagiarism definition. But as this is clearly a wall with many different "enhancements" over what is clearly a longer period of time, I think it is just a great choice of subject matter from the photographer. Furthermore, the key piece to the definition of plagiarism is that the offender claims the work as his own. I don't see any claims that this was wholly created by the photographer.

comment by Brian at 07:34 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

This mini collection of photos is not to be plagiarism; simply because there is more to the photography than merely the graffiti art. The graffiti artist's idea is simply just that, his/her art, as we would see it live.

However, the photographer's idea here is different and more than just a copy of the idea (which he doesn't pretend to take credit for). There is a certain spin, or personality that Chromasia adds. Which is what us, as viewers/critics, usually comment on; that spin and perspective that the photographer uses to capture what he sees as he sees it - and how well it was executed.

Perhaps in this current photo, the perspective is the juxtaposition of the different styles of graffiti artists and the decay of both (or all). In that way, it is well executed and that is what I like about these two photos.

peace and love,

comment by tad at 07:35 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

i love graffiti!

this shot has some wonderful saturation, totally diggin' it..


comment by wacky at 07:54 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

eh... i hope server's not "down" or whatever (my comment on the previous photo didnt go through). i document graffit/street art, a lot of it. my view is that photographs serve as an archive of an otherwise ephemeral artifact. it's also pretty amazing to me that the photographer's eye can extract details upon surfaces that pedestrians may not notice - people often dismiss it as vandalism, grey noise, whatever. photographers extract the essence and bring it to the fore. i dont see it as "reproduction" either. graffiti is weathered by nature, the surface is undergoing constant change - paper may be ripped, paint may fade, and the best part, other people may interact with it by adding their own comments. good graffiti invite dialogue. photographing graffiti will NEVER be a straight reproduction.

now, theres a problem when photographers decide to sell prints of it on a mass scale and NOT credit the artist, or give a cut to the artist. (im thinking about that "street art gallery" or whateever they call themselves in shorditch.) that's totally unethical to me.... but that's another discussion altogether.

comment by isabel at 08:16 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

Strictly speaking plagiarism is using somebody else's thought, ideas, art, etc. without referencing the origins. As long you are publish approx. where you found the graffiti and present it in your way I don't have a problem with it. (Scientists do it every day.)

So rather than 'photocopying' it I think you should present it in your own way e.g. people in front of it, change of colours/light, etc. You are an artist yourself. You see it with different eyes - show us! Tell us what you like about it and why.

So continue presenting other peoples view points – in your own way. At the end of the day it has influenced you as an artist so why not show it.

comment by djn1 at 08:25 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

One thing that hasn't come up so far in this discussion is the role of photography in relation to the world. For example, there seems to be some tacit assumption that photography, as art, should always provide some sort of spin on what is being photographed - isabel's point about having people in front of it for example. Need this always be the case? Isn't simple documentation of a scene, a staightforward re-presentation, equally valid?

comment by emma at 08:36 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

hhhmm interesting topic. to be honest i have never even considered there to be an issue with taking photographs of graffiti. when i got my first slr i actually remember it being one of the first things i photographed, for the urban feel and for the colour.

i guess that now i publish photo's on the web there could be call for some consideration, however graffiti is not usually a permanent image, so perhaps some graffiti artists would actually be happy to have their work published in this way? guess we need a graffiti artsists opinion :p

i like the photo by the way :)

comment by JL at 08:42 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

It's interesting the way photographers see their subjects. I have virtually the same image from Brick Lane, though not as saturated. By the way, I love the strength of your photos.

comment by Distilled Eye at 09:01 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

agree with Owen B. it reminds me of a hip hop artist sampling many parts of other peoples' work, and coming up with a completely original piece. in this case, the whole is certainly more than the sum of its parts.

comment by jasonspix at 09:23 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

I guess I'll chime in. My opinion is that unless you are trying to sell the photograph of graphiti then it's no big deal. Unless of course you also say "hey, look at this graphiti I painted." But just photographing graphiti to me isn't plagurism. If you sell a photograph with a person in it that is able to be recognized, generally the buyer will want a release of some sort. I'd think it the same for selling a photograph of graphiti or any other sort of art work for that matter. Keep em coming! :)

comment by Andy Cogbill at 09:31 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

Never being one to miss weighing in on a discussion such as this one, I'd like to contribute my two cents.

I agree with a lot that has been said here already. Actually, your question, Dave, made me think of the people whom I see here in NYC at museums that will stand "just so" in front of a Van Gogh or a Picasso and fill their camera's frame with the painting and then snap, immortalizing forever their camera's (and, thus, their) proximity to a great work of art.

My question for those people: What's the point? Why bother taking a photo of art when you can actually *look* at it? If you want to admire the art at a later date, buy a professional reproduction -- or even a postcard -- so you're not trying to admire a tiny LCD screen.

With that said, I, too, am guilty of taking a photo of the Mona Lisa (this was back when I was a young teen, years away from taking photography seriously). My point being, then, that maybe it's human nature to try and "document" where we've been to justify the time we spent getting there and appreciating whatever it was that we were admiring.

However, I think that going to that special place where the Snake River winds towards the Tetons (Ansel Adams, for all not in the know) and taking a photo is, in fact, a sort of plagiarism. After all, unless you go there completely oblivious to the Ansel Adams shot, you are using another person's idea and passing it off as your own artistic expression. And, while inspiration is absolutely necessary to this art, a lack of personal interpretation is what I would call plagiarism by definition.

So. Take for instance Dave's photo from a while ago:

This, I would argue, is a photo without meaning (no offense, Dave), since it is a point-for-point reproduction of a piece of art that existed before the shutter opened. I think, in this case, the photo becomes an invisible, unnecessary medium that only gets between viewer and artwork and, especially if Dave took complete credit for this, it could be considered plagiarism.

But, in the grafitti example, I think it's less cut-and-dry. There is a selection process going on here and, so long as there is something else in the frame, it can be considered, for all intents and purposes, original art. Yesterday's shot is definitely that. With today's, it's hard to tell. But I would argue that it, too, belongs to Dave and Dave alone. It's certainly not clear, though -- and when it isn't clear if there's anything original about it, I think we must ask ourselves "Why bother?"

comment by john [shots] at 09:40 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

I have considered this aspect many times. I am aware that many photographers totally dismiss the validity of any photograph that merely photographically reproduces someone elses art.

My view though is that the intention of the photographer is really the deciding factor. I for instance might be drawn to the art itself but be intending to document the social factors that lie at the root of this prolific work.

What I found strange about this particular area of london is that whilst we were wandering around I saw no real evidence of poverty and in the main most of the pedestrians were trendy arty type people. It almost felt like a pseudo manufatured urban village that was created for the art lovers of this world. I do however believe that at night the area might take on a different complexion.

I think it is good to document such scenes - this is our society and it is as valid as shot as a nice piece of architecture.

comment by matt at 09:45 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

great range of colors here!

comment by Sharla at 10:12 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

Wonderful! A chance to add my 2p/2¢.

Plagiarizing with a camera is very difficult. Passing off someone else's work as your own isn't easy with a camera because cameras are so literal. Any photo of art literally presents itself as a facsimile of that art, or less.

A photograph cannot plagiarize the Mona Lisa. Rather, the person that could be fooled that a photograph of an almost universally known work of art was actually an original painting wouldn't be worth the effort of fooling.

Copying another photograph and claiming it as your own would definitely be plagiarism, no matter the level of art or content. Of course, it would be easier and faster to simply buy your favorite photograph or a print and say, "Do you like this? I took it."

Plagiarizing requires passing someone else's ideas off as your own, not obviously taking someone else's ideas and re-presenting or building on them. I've heard well-renowned authors state there are almost no original ideas, just new ways of presenting them. As much has been said of Shakespeare. If not Will, it's true of so, so many that have followed him.

Was Andy Warhol plagiarizing when he featured the graphic art from a Campbell's soup can in his own creations?

comment by Sharla at 10:20 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

Andy C's comments had not been posted when I composed mine, so the similarities are coincidental and not a response to his points in any way. Sorry, more of a boring repeat. However, my ideas were original and are in no way plagiarisms of his!

comment by mark at 10:20 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

I've not read anybody else's posts I'm afraid so I may well be repeating what others have said. In my opinion, if an artist displays their work in such a fashion as this - ie. right out in the public domain then there isn't any question of the issue of theft.

In fact, taking it one step further I would put money on the artist only viewing it as theft if another street artist (in this instance) was to copy their work elsewhere in a similar fashion. I actually think they'd probably be over the moon that someone would photograph it and put it on the web, especially when it's done with such vibrant brilliance that your skill affords it.

As for plagiarism...well that would be passing it off as your own work would it not...a la the less gifted students at Universities that I have no doubt you've encountered ;-) You're doing no such thing.

I'm new to photography but I would like to say that your work truly inspires me Dave. Thanks.

comment by kevin at 10:30 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

By creating the photo, you are creating your own work. End of story. Otherwise, all forms of photography would be considered plagarism! I understand their reasoning, you are showing their work. HOWEVER, you are using a completely different medium. Many times you are creating a completely different mood, your motives are typically different. The WHOLE FREAKING piece of art is different. The only way I could see photography as plagarism, would be if you shot a photo of another photo, and cropped it, so it make the photo look like the original. Yeah-- that's plagarism-- This-- Negative.

comment by djn1 at 11:51 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

I guess my own view on this, that has been echoed above, is that there are different reasons for photographing graffiti, different agendas if you like, and the way in which you choose to represent it has an impact on the final result. In this case, for this particular shot, I think my intention was to document the scene more than anything else – to provide a record of something I'd seen, that I might not see again. And in this sense, I don't consider this photograph as a piece of art, it's more a documentary record. And after all, chromasia is a blog, not an art gallery.

Yesterday's shot, however, I'd consider to be a little more artistic in that with that one I was attempting to isolate a piece of graffiti (from the many other works that surrounded it) and relate it to its context; the open doorway, the wall, and so on.

I guess that my point, or one of them, is that a photographer's reasons for photographing something should, if they're known, have some bearing on how the work is received. For example, if I were to insist that I think this shot was a piece of fine-art photography, I doubt I'd be taken seriously. But it's not, it's a day in the life of this particular section of this particular wall. Next week it may well look a bit different, next year it will almost certainly have changed quite radically, and if I lived nearby I might document that change. But I don't, so all I could bring away with me was this shot.

I'm rambling and have totally lost the thread of what I was trying to say. I'll probably add some more thoughts tomorrow.

comment by lisa at 11:57 PM (GMT) on 30 September, 2005

ok, that's a lot of heavy comments to read through... *skips over*

I'm going to have to simply say that taking a photo of graffiti and posting it isn't plagiarism in my books. It's not as though you're claiming that graffiti your own. I also think that seeing graffiti up close and in the actual context - standing infront of it or what have you - gives a completely different message and feel than to just look at a picture of the graffiti.

All that said, I still enjoy the photos you've taken here. I'm especially loving this big explosion of rich, all over colour.

comment by Ed { tfk } at 01:14 AM (GMT) on 1 October, 2005

I figure that if a graffiti artist didn't want their work to be plagiarized, they wouldn't spray it in the public.

Of course, I'm sure they'd hate their design to be stolen but in the context of taking a photo of it; well, the graffiti is part of the shot - part of the composition.

comment by joe_ob at 01:29 AM (GMT) on 1 October, 2005

Photographs, art, information, plagiarism, theft, ones and noughts. If people who make stuff can't handle other people taking their own slant then they are just greedy. Chilax. Let people do whatever they want. Nobody gets hurt.

comment by KiwiNessie at 01:46 AM (GMT) on 1 October, 2005

What I understand is that anything in a public place it is within the domain of the photographer. The difficulty would come into play if you were to produce a commercial work incorporating the graffiti art.

comment by Matthew Robinson at 03:41 AM (GMT) on 1 October, 2005

Okay, I read most of the comments and I'd like to contribute my 2p (this is an English photo so pence make the most sense to contribute).

In my opinion since this is taken in a public place and you state that you are not the graffiti artist I would not consider it a plagiarism. If you were to begin selling these for a profit that would become an ethical issue of sampling for commercial reasons. If this were a piece done inside a museum or private area there would be issues of plagiarism because then the piece would be privately owned. If I personally were a graffiti artist trying to break into the big time like Bansky then I would appreciate the dissemination of my work.

Dictionary.com defines plagiarize thus: To put forth as original to oneself the ideas or words of another. I'd have to say that you clearly state this to be your picture of someone else's work. Plus you are not attempting to make a profit off of selling this image.

comment by Violet at 07:59 AM (GMT) on 1 October, 2005

It's almost midnight of 30 September here on America's west coast. The residents of many earlier time zones have had a good deal of time to view and appreciate Dave's excellent photograph and to consider the important philosophical questions he has raised. All of the intelligent, thoughtful visitors to Chromasia have made respectful, thought-provoking posts, and it has been a pleasure - as always - to view Dave's thoroughly excellent art and to be a visitor among such a vibrant community. Thank you, Dave, and thank you, visitors....

comment by Sylwia at 08:54 AM (GMT) on 1 October, 2005

If photographing graffiti was plagiarism, therefore photographing anything could be called plagiarism. However, a photographer shows what he/she sees, how he sees it, shows world around. A photographer doesn't claim he created what the photography shows. He is the author of the photography, which shows a piece of art of another author: painter, graffiti maker, or God.

comment by phong at 09:25 AM (GMT) on 1 October, 2005

grafitti is a different kind of not traditional art, i would welcome anyone to take an interesting shot of any of my pieces and hold it up as their own. grafitti exist in a very public space, its not hung in some private gallery. its nature encourages collaboration and derivative pieces. photography is just another form of this.

on the other hand if the photographer had to taken a documentery style shot and held it up as his own, then i would have problem. its faily obvious where the line is for me.

the host is amazing btw. i love your stuff djn.

comment by twocker at 12:09 PM (GMT) on 1 October, 2005

Fantastic saturation of coluor on this image Dave, and that is maybe where the plageriam arguement changes for photography especially in the digital age. I suspect you boost the sat in post-prod and therefore you have re-interperated the image.

Andy Warhol has all ready been mentioned and if you were to, in the same style, reproduce the image as a moncrome (colour-toned) image who would you be plagerising (sp?) - the grafitti artist or Andy Warhol?

My personal view (echoing john (Shots)) unless you reproduce exactly a previous work AND then pass it off as your own - you are not guilt of plagerism.

comment by Effective Pixels at 12:18 PM (GMT) on 1 October, 2005

I think it isn't plagiarism at all, because it's simply something you saw and made a picture of. I think everybody knows you're a photographer, so they should know it's not a graphic you made, but just a capture of some graffiti. In case you also create graphics (graffiti, Photoshop or other) it's different I think, because then it wouldn't be clear if you created this piece or just took a picture of it. But since you only post photo's on your site, I think it's clear it's a photo and not a graphic you created.

I took some pictures of graffiti as well and I decided to include a little bit of the surrounding, like this one:


Anyway, nice picture!

comment by tim at 02:57 PM (GMT) on 1 October, 2005

It's not plagiarism to photograph it and then post it on your blog, but it is certainly not art. It's a picture of art. Seeing it here doesn't bother me or surprise me--after all, the images you shoot are not art; they never have been and, unless your underlying esthetic understanding changes, they never will be (accept on accident). Rather your images are sentimental craft--pretty colors and nice lines, but no feeling, no heart, nothing that challenges ideas and preconceptions.

comment by Andy Cogbill at 03:48 PM (GMT) on 1 October, 2005


I have to say, I completely disagree. I think that most (if not all) of the photos on Chromasia and select other pblogs are hosts to a profound depth of art that, as you say, "challenges ideas and preconceptions." This challenge could be as simple as helping you realize or notice the "small things," as it were, or as complex as carrying several themes in the subtext of an image.

At times, yes, the aesthetic does carry the image, but it's almost always a part of something else that is greater than "pretty colors and nice lines."

comment by djn1 at 04:29 PM (GMT) on 1 October, 2005

Thanks everyone, this has been/is a good discussion, and I don't suppose we've reached a consensus about the validity or otherwise of photographing graffiti but I'm reassured that many of you seem to share my sentiments.

Tim: the line between art and photography isn't one that I think is particularly clearly drawn. What I can say is that I partly agree - some of the stuff I put up is "sentimental craft—pretty colors and nice lines", but I would like to think that these don't form the bulk of my work. Perhaps I'll mention this tomorrow, but if you do drop back in the meanwhile I'd be interested to see some examples of photographs that you would consider art.

comment by nogger at 02:13 AM (GMT) on 2 October, 2005

Everything's a transformation of something else. A painting is only a transformation. If photographing something like this is invalid in some way, so is photographing anything.

How original is the graffiti? Does anyone know?

comment by Ed at 09:45 PM (GMT) on 3 October, 2005

What you have here is not merely a shot of one individual's work being reproduced in the form of a photo. I see bits and pieces of work from various people and you chose to frame it in a one that you felt best presents it. I think you also have to look at what is considered art. If you take photos of beautiful, original architecture, is that plagiarism? What about a customed made motorcycle? I don't think I can give a definitive answer. It's certainly something that never occurred to me.

comment by display at 09:31 PM (GMT) on 4 October, 2005


comment by peter at 02:06 AM (GMT) on 5 October, 2005

OK, good question, but I don't think it is that difficult if we approech it stright. So if one takes a shot of a grafiti, it is reproduction, even if there are other elements to it. If the photograph contains elements that makes up a story, as in puts the grafiti into a new context or just use it as an element in a more complex image, that can become an individual artwork and no reason to talk about plagerism. Grafiti, Hip-Hop and other cult directions often use and feed from eachother (think about DJ's). And then, there is another way..., Brassai, the great Hungarian classic. He had a great series of Paris grafiti from the early 20th C. beautiful documentary in it's context as a series. And he didn't add much to it, tight, very closed compositions in themselfs, no additional elements. I think, we can just take it from there, being frank and straight forward, and that'll judge the entire question.

comment by Ioannis at 12:45 PM (GMT) on 9 October, 2005

I think anything that does not display any copyright protection on it is considered to be public domain. Therefore, legally at least, you can photograph graffitti freely unless some sad painter painted a copyright notice.

Now ethically, again I think photographs like this do not constitute plagiarism. You are presenting a view of a city, which includes the graffitti. Similarly, when you take photographs of the buildings, you are not stealing the art of the architect. You are just presenting it.

comment by Ioannis at 12:46 PM (GMT) on 9 October, 2005

I think anything that does not display any copyright protection on it is considered to be public domain. Therefore, legally at least, you can photograph graffitti freely unless some sad painter painted a copyright notice.

Now ethically, again I think photographs like this do not constitute plagiarism. You are presenting a view of a city, which includes the graffitti. Similarly, when you take photographs of the buildings, you are not stealing the art of the architect. You are just presenting it.

comment by dana at 04:59 PM (GMT) on 5 August, 2006

that is so true;;; that it's not plagerism- but DOCUMENTATION

there shouldn't be any laws like that, wehre if you can see it... you can't photograph it- because it's like the same thing as describing it... or drawing it out--

By the way... i absolutly love this shot!!