When is my work only mine?

How do you handle your lack of inspiration? I usually look at other peoples work to get inspiration. I do it with hope that I’ll be inspired to create something. But when I do this, sometimes my image becomes a version of someone else work. And that may be a dilemma.

When is an idea only yours?

When do you think your image becomes yours and isn’t a homage or loan of someone else’s idea? If I make homages of others peoples ideas should I tell them? Am I always required to tell those who’s images I borrowed that they’ve inspired me? When, if ever, is my work only the work of me and not of those who inspire me?

Recently I was at a youth competition for fencing with my youngest son and the poster for the competition caught my eye. I walked past this picture/poster serval times; I stopped and examined the pace and perspective. The image had strong lines that draw the viewer into the picture. In short, I really like this image.

Low on ideas

As you know I’m in the midst of a 365 project with the goal of 52 images featuring reflections. I can say that I’m pretty low on ideas right now. So the other night when I went out to do another working image I used this poster image as my inspiration. Maybe I made my own image, maybe I only made a copy? I realize that there are differences, but really it’s the same idea with a couple of minor differences. In my image the subject is a toy and she doesn’t where a mask but carries a sword…  My image is based on another image and someone else’s idea. Does this mean my image is mine? Or is it a copy or even worse simply theft? When is an image original enough to be called mine?

My answer

My own answer to this question is that I don’t think there is anything that is truly original. We all borrow, from others. I don’t think that my ideas are the result of only me…, I borrow, mashup, remix and make them to be mine. But during that process I consciously and unconsciously get inspired by other peoples ideas, images, as well as impressions from my everyday life. I use all this as a source of inspiration. In a best case scenario, these ideas merge into images that I can call my own. But some images will become pure tribute to an existing image, while others are copies of images I want to learn from. I feel that to truly understand an image we need to look at it over and over again and sometimes I have to copy it. Thinking of it and looking through my images I think there is only a few images that stand out as images that are just me. But I may be wrong, what do you say?


After I had written this text, I went out to do a sunday version of my photo-project and I ended up with a new version of the idea that I got inspired by. Is this image mine, or just a copy of a copy?


  1. Great post, Kristina! I too have struggled with whether I’m merely “inspired by” other photographers’ work, or simply copying their ideas. I like the conclusion you came to. It’s a little bit of both! We do sometimes copy, but not in a malicious or “bad” way.

    It reminds me of the phrase, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” You’re only “copying” the original image because it spoke to you so much that you wanted to put your own spin on it or try out the technique for yourself! I think that’s something that everyone practices, whether they know it or not. I certainly do it.

    My biggest question, as you asked, is whether or not to credit the original artist or at least let them know. I think that varies. If my image is very very close to what they did, I like to give them credit. If it was simply a jumping off point that I then expanded on in my own way, I don’t think it’s 100% necessary.

    I love the image that you came up with, it’s clearly inspired by the poster, but is in no way a mere copy of it. It definitely has your voice all over it! Excellent job.

    • kalexanderson

      Thank you James 🙂 The credit-issue is hard one. I don’t have any good advice, because I know for a fact that I seem to remake my images many time and in the end I’m not sure if I copy myself or copy the images that got me going in the first place. And when should I credit the inpsiration in my first try or when the image is finished? Ideas are free and not copyrighted it’s when I copy an expression – I think it’s harder… I think of this all the time. I’m glad you liked the text.

  2. Art does not happen in a vaccum. Novels refer to other novels, sometimes openly, sometimes in a subtle way. Did Wolfram von Eschenbach copy the French text when he wrote (?) “Parzival”? Did Wagner steal from him when he wrote his opera? What happens when a modern author turns the same subject matter into drama?

    I think there is always dialogue. I visited documenta this weekend, and one of the most appelealing pieces (in my eyes) was a slow motion video of people being knocked of theor feet by water-throwers. The title was “The Raft”, and it connected to both the Raft of the Medusa by Géricault and a greater sense of classic Greek tragedy.

    I think part of a work’s power lies in its ability to connect to other works.

    Of course, besides parody there is plagiarism, and the difference may sometimes be hard to tell. As for your picture, I basically do not think it’s plagiarism. There is too much of your own way of seeing in it; it significantly deviates from the poster picture.

    Just my 2 cts. Yours is a thought provoking post, and I might not be through with it…

    • kalexanderson

      Thanks Tobias – I couldn’t have said better myself! Dialog it is and moment toward and againt those before us and those after us as Sturm und Drang put it if I remeber correct. Yes I think we talk to those who inspire us 🙂 That for sharing your thoughts on this matter.

  3. Kristina, we live in postmodern world [or even post-postmodern?] and there is really hard to create something absolutely new and original. As Tobias said, many forms of creation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We’re soaked with many, many symbols, signs, stories from art and popculture. Sometimes we even don’t know that the idea, which appeared somewhere deep in the tangles of our neurons is a result of complicated process of transformation of components of reality. Just like Roland Barthes once said – “text is a tissue of quotations” 🙂
    So don’t worry, we all live in a world of references ;). If You’re inspired directly by other work, just give a credit.

    • kalexanderson

      Yeah I agree to some extent. Text and literature has that tradition a but in photography there is no intertextuality and you can’t quote a image , if you do it’s only copying. In a medium where many people a shouting theft when people imitate there is hard to say there is no orginality … I agree with your point and Barthes of view that the text is only a tissue of quotations. But I’m not sure everyone does though 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. You said it yourself, ideas are mixing and matching others’ ideas. I don’t believe there has ever been any truly original idea. With your light saber/rapier pictures you don’t simply copy the fencing picture, but many other sources too. And that’s what makes it yours: the fact that it is probably a copy of many different elements you encountered throughout your life. I don’t think something could feel ours if we didn’t heavily copied others. It’s such a pity we’re told all our life that copying is bad, while in my opinion, it’s the secret to creativity 🙂

  5. I agree that nothing is original. We make our art ours by bringing ourselves into it. You didn’t set out to exactly copy the image you admired, but you did learn a bit about what drives you artistically in seeing it. Mystery in the fog or covered face, leading lines with the sword, etc. And then you took those things that speak to you and made them your own. I personally think that’s the evolution of art.

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