When is appropriation imitation? When does homage need to be referenced? These kinds of questions come up frequently in art and photography – the most recent case being a photo essay on Time.com that treads closely in Paul Fusco's footsteps.
The pictures were brought to my attention by Michael George, currently a Photography and Imaging major at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Michael sent me a link to his blog, Inceptive Notions, where he points out the more than coincidental similarities between Callie Shell’s “The Campaign from Obama’s Point of View” and Paul Fusco’s “RFK Funeral Train” series, which as many of you know, I just finished exhibiting. Click here to see Fusco’s seminal images.
On Time.com the only words describing Shell’s portfolio are: “TIME photographer Callie Shell shows what the Democratic campaign looked like from the candidate's point of view.” Then there is a slideshow of 14 different images taken mostly through the window of Obama’s bus, but also from a campaign train. The photographs are just O.K., without reaching the poetic or compositional height of Fusco's work. But more importantly, I think it would have been appropriate to say something like: “Inspired by Paul Fusco’s ‘RFK Funeral Train’ pictures, Callie Shell shows what the Democratic campaign looked like from the candidate's point of view.” Otherwise, it's just a rip-off.