I would like to thank 6Mois for forwarding on your Open Letter, thereby offering me the opportunity to respond.
First of all, it is with great sorrow that I read of the suffering caused to you and those close to you – To hear my work has contributed to any kind of grievance is really disappointing.
Your letter pertains to a firm accusation that I have copied your photos and suggests your intent in writing this open letter is to let people know the truth. Whilst I acknowledge the similarities in the photos you have found via online sources and the two artist statements on Lensculture, I can categorically state that I have not intentionally copied any of your work, or that of anyone else.
Below is a more detailed response to your letter:
Over the last 12 months I have indeed reached out to you and your family in an effort to create a connection. I did this for a number of reasons, most notably because I admire your work and because I was hoping for friendship with someone who had similar values and visions in their desires for bringing up children. We have been home schooling our children now for 5 years, living without TV, etc, for just as long. It is not often I come across others with similar approaches in parenting, especially in other countries – so it was with a genuine comradeship that I reached out. It is a shame this was not appreciated for what it genuinely was as this “Open Letter” is the very first correspondence I have received in return.
Our children are fortunate enough to lead similar lifestyles, and we both choose to celebrate this with our photography. With a passion for a photojournalistic style of photography that evolved from early 2000. I have been capturing shots of my children for a few years now (long before I joined Facebook 2 years ago). We live on a farm near the beach, with a pond and a river, with animals and their remains, and with children to whom this sort of environment presents all sorts of opportunities to play and explore. It is inevitable that the universal language of nature, mud, water, (etc) will exist in our pictures, we afford our children freedoms in their worlds to play, to be, to express themselves freely. It is a shame that we cannot afford ourselves the same freedoms.
The five images are remarkably similar. Did I copy them …no. In fact three of your images you have shared .. I did not even know existed until this letter .
I have thousands of images of my children living within their environment here, hundreds of which I have shared on facebook , that you have found five that are similar is not surprising given the similarities in our lifestyles..
The reality is we live on a farm, my kids get up to a LOT of stuff, and I am there with my camera.
That you are ‘flooded’ with and have my images ‘forced ‘ upon you .. is not something I understand .. I have recently entered a few competition.. yes .. as a beginner I did not expect to gain recognition in these as I have , but I don’t see this as something I need to excuse myself for …..as I have already stated, my images went ‘viral’ a few months ago … this was unexpected , unprovoked and frankly not a totally enjoyable experience for me. A very few asked for permission and an interview … but with the rest .. I was naïve and website , companies etc .. were taking what they wanted words and pictures from everywhere I had ever posted them .. it was a steep and unpleasant learning experience for me … but again , not one I feel I should be held accountable for, or defend. None of this was engineered by me. This just happened to me.
Over this time I received a large amount of correspondence from a variety of people, some complimentary, others very scathing, a lot questioned our unschooling approach and general lifestyle.. Others talked about the photography. Amongst these messages were a few that did refer to my images being similar to both yours and those of Sally Mann. For me this was not wonderful to hear, and I started to worry that they were indeed similar. So I asked the advice of some highly respected photographers that I am so fortunate to be friends with, and I asked them to be frank and honest with these comments and what they saw, to which they all replied ‘no’ that my pictures and style whilst clearly similar in regards to being black and white and derived from similar social context (not at all surprising given our somewhat similar lifestyles) still possessed numerous differences in photographic approach, and advised that I keep doing things my way , and to ignore the few who could not seem to see the difference. Needless to say this was very reassuring for me.
That you say I do not state you as an inspiration or influence in interviews is an interesting observation. I am someone who has always been an information seeker and gatherer. I seek inspiration from a huge range of avenues, books, movies, life experiences, and yes artists as well. I have had the wonderful pleasure of being introduced to a wide range of artists , photographers and otherwise, and I have slowly been building up a collection of books that I will continue to ponderfor years to come. My inspirations come from so many. Alain, I love the images you create. Are your images an inspiration to me? Yes, as are those of so many others. But have I ever sought directly to copy your work? No, no and no. I am an honest person, Alain, and really not that complicated. My love for our family is the biggest thing in my life and is where my pictures come from. Your accusation is against everything I believe in and believe myself to be.
You mention I am a commercial photographer and thus a mastery at photography, just to let you know I am neither, I set up a website, yes, the ‘clients’ you see on there are family and friends. I have yet to make any real progress with the idea of creating a working sustainable photography business, it was something I set up with intentions, but one that hasn’t really gone anywhere.
I am no master of photography, I am a hobbyist, not an acclaimed artist and gallerist such as yourself, for more than any other reason I do it for the love of it. I have no formal education in photography, although I have enjoyed participating in a number of valuable short courses in recent years.
I am so sorry you feel the way you do about my pictures, but I do not understand why you chose not to come to me personally to discuss this, especially as I have reached out to you on several occasions, but instead you chose not to respond and write a public letter to a publication to express your thoughts. Where I come from we choose to communicate with each other personally, and look to reach agreements and resolve grievances this way. I find your approach very interesting Alain, and frankly a real shame. It would have been so easy for you to just tell me what you were concerned about. Why didn’t you do this? I truly do not understand.
To look at the images more specifically:
The image with the leaves as ears - The image of yours is not one I have seen before. My daughter learnt this trick from her older cousin just a couple of weeks before this picture was taken. We were on holiday and we don’t have leaves like that where we lived , then on a trip to nearby river she found some of these leaves , and picked them and said ‘Mama , I am a bunny’ and scrunched her nose up like a rabbit , she was so excited , and I photographed that. It is not a great photo , but one that still holds meaning to me, because I can still remember her joy at finding those leaves that made her magically become a ‘bunny’, and I will not for a second have anyone take that magical memory away from me with accusations of intentional plagiarism.
The image with the wee chicken - Alain , once again I did not know this picture of your child with the chicken on the bed even existed. As I have said , we live on a farm, we have chickens that hatch every year, often quite a few hatch within a year. My girls love these little things, sometimes too much, they play with them and mother them and get far too close with them as little girls do. This day they brought this little one inside, they were worried about it, and thought it was sick so they chose to bring it inside and watch it (rather intently) they spent hours watching this little thing play and then they cuddled it close to keep it warm and sleep and then feed it and watched it play again … it was so beautiful and nurturing…. I photographed that. I have a whole series of images on file that can speak to that.
The image of my kids and the raft in our pond - This is a not actually a used tractor tyre as you say, it is a plastic half mussel buoy, we live very close to mussel farms in our area , and the kids were lucky enough to find one, which they learnt they could sit in and paddle across to the island in the middle of our pond … they have been doing this since we moved here 5 years ago, they can only do this in the winter , as the pond dries up in the summer , so it is with great excitement that they sit in this and tentatively balance as they attempt the crossing , it is easy to tip this boat of theirs but always to be avoided due to the eels and cold grimy water , it brings much squeals of delight and a whole lot of stories and laughter to them.. Wonderful adventures and joy I want to record for them and me. I took a lot of images down the pond during the winters.. this was one I liked , I loved the way they were helping each other to get the boat back when my daughter was struggling to row it… again it is a poignant memory for me, and one that I will hold onto, and that I hope they will cherish, without any shame or concern about what others think. I would be happy to send you a file of the scores of other images I have made there so you can see that I am not inventing this. Do you really think I would arrange a pond and a boat just to copy your picture?
The images of the wheel barrow … yes remarkably similar. Alain, we live on a farm, we have a wheelbarrow, and just as your children love to ride and play in it, as do ours, and our neighbours who also own one , and our friends children who also live on farms.. they have photos too, our children are not unique in this. Wheelbarrows are fun and I take pictures and celebrate the fact that my children can still take so much joy fromsimple piece of equipment, and I celebrate that here are others in the world that also do .. I have many tens ofpictures of my kids having fun with our wheel barrow, in many many ways …that you have found a couple that are similar to yours is no coincidence. Again, I am more than happy to send those pictures too, so that you can see once again I was not making pictures to imitate yours.
Interestingly the one with them pushing another - it is one I took for an online course I was doing, the assignment was to learn and practise the technique of ‘panning’ which is precisely how this image came about. I can send you all those pictures too if you like?
Alain, I have never , will never , and have no desire to copy yours or anyone else’s work. I do not feel I need other people’s work to make my own work strong.
I have no doubt there will be many similar images from all kinds of artist out there in the internet world, but I wish only that people can continue to make their art, create pictures, make memories and share and celebrate this wonderful freedom and joy that we are afforded to do this without fear of accusation or shame.
That being said I will happily remove any images from facebook, website, etc, as it was, and never has been my intention to upset anyone with my images, they are firstly and foremost memories for me and my children. I would have been more than happy to do this at your request anytime.
My artist statement - The sentence that you point out is remarkably similar.
You might note that while that one sentence is indeed very similar the remaining few paragraphs are without resemblances at all. I was lucky enough to have help from a wonderful writer , I knew what I wanted to say , but was struggling with the words to do it with , as part of a course I was doing I received some wonderful help with the statement , and will be forever grateful for her generosity and help , as it is a statement that reflects well what I feel about my images, and I love it as it is.’
Having said that, it was never my intention to aggrieve anyone with my words, and if this is the effect it has had with you then I will happily omit that sentence, no problem. You just needed to ask.
About our “very similar post-production and black and white processing of the pictures” that you mention - Alain, I I do not see it. I am no expert but other than the fact that we both choose to process our images in black and white, as do many, many others, I feel that our interpretations of this black and white medium are quite different. Indeed, mine tending to be much darker, and with significantly more contrast, and without the tone you apply to yours.
You also mention “confusing the audience” I do not believe the audience is confused, and I feel that maybe we should give the audience a little more credit. Viewers of art come from all over , people like what resonates with them , and I do not feel they will have any trouble what so ever recognising who the artists are , what they like and why.
Writing is not the thing that I am best at in the world so this has taken me a long time. I have neglected my children and my husband to reply to you as honestly as I know how to. I hope you understand that I mean well with everything I have written here but that also I would like you to reply to my question. Why did you feel it was necessary to do this the way you did? You could have always simply talked to me or written me or responded to my attempts to talk to you. We even have mutual friends that I am sure would have helped us communicate. You are a world-famous photographer with books and galleries and well deserved fame. I am a mother here in New Zealand whose work is just beginning to be known. Your pictures are so wonderful, so strong and true and original … with your letter - it feels so strange to me that you feel like you have to defend them against my work which was never intended to hurt yours. Your wonderful pictures defend themselves just by being.
As I have said, it was never my intention to upset you or anyone else with my words or images. If this is the effect it has had with you then I would have happily removed images or words at your request anytime, you only needed to ask. Alain it is a real shame we couldn’t just talk about all this.
My work has only ever been shared for positive reasons and to hear that it has been received in such an unfortunate way is certainly disappointing, but I must be very clear – I stand 100% behind the integrity of my body of work.