When does inspiration cross over the line into plagiarism and copyright infringement? This is the subject of my lede story for this Sunday’s Los Angeles Times Calendar/Arts section, which looks at the work of photographers Sze Tsung Leong [above, top row] and David Burdeny [above, bottom row]. Photography poses special problems in the realm of fair use, because as a medium it is predicated on reproduction, and because it is so widely and easily practiced. As I write in the story, “some form of transformation of an original work is required to avoid infringement, but just what constitutes an acceptable level of transformation is a matter of interpretation.”
[left: Leong installation; right: Burdeny installation]
The Leong-Burdeny case is especially tricky, though I think the fact that Burdeny has borrowed not just photographic subject matter but also installation style and texts from Leong is telling. As the story mentions, there are also images in Burdeny’s show at Vancouver’s Kostuik gallery that closely approximate images taken by the German photographers Elger Esser and Andreas Gursky. Although I did not have the opportunity to mention it in the short space of the article, Burdeny has in the past also produced images of similarity to other photographers:
[On the left, a photograph by the German artist Michael Weseley. On the right is a Burdeny.]
[On the left, Michael Kenna. On the right, David Burdeny.]
This is, quite obviously, a weirdly fascinating story, and one that is still developing. Stay tuned. In the meantime, thanks to everyone who spoke with me about this story, both on the record and off.