22 November 2005


Happy Independence Day, Lebanon. I hope this year will be more independent than the last.

In honor of independence as a general concept, I’d like to discuss one of the ways independence plays out in the art world. In the last few decades, artists and critics have claimed that an image is never original, and if that idea is taken further, an artist never acts independently. Their work is always more or less a derivation, departure from, reaction to, or extension of something that happened first. The cascade of influences isn’t always easy to trace, so a lot of time goes into tracing it with greater or lesser success. Here’s a notable recent failure—where tracing foregoing influence led to an inaccurate correlation.

This site and this site reported recently on the similar appearance of the firefox logo and an obscure Georgia O’Keeffe painting. The two sort of look alike, but I’m pretty confident that the idea for the logo came from something else.

Anyway, I’ve been researching Sally Mann, and I came across this chain of photos, that I think is pretty interesting.

We start with Dorothea Lange's Damaged Child from 1936.

This actually is a damaged child, the child of migrant workers, dressed in rags.

Now we have Sally Mann's Damaged Child from 1984.

This is her daughter jessie, whose eye is swollen as a result of a gnat bite. She looks like the victim of some sort of abuse. Mann's photo and the title of it are references to Lange's.

Here's another damaged child from 2005.

A hair cut went wrong. The photographer doesn't know anything about Mann's or Lange's damaged child. This image is "independent" of them even if my name for the picture isn't. So, like the firefox logo and the Georgia O'Keeffe painting, establishing a visual similarity doesn't establish any kind of original connection. Images are always the descendent of something, but in this case, it isn't what you'd think.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Technically, the picture on the bottom is also the child of immigrant workers.