Editing someone else’s work – is it a crime?

Ah, the forbidden fruit… How sweet it is!

OK, now that I got your attention, let me qualify that statement about editing someone else’s work: it was with their consent. So there, no crime committed. And actually this is not going to be about the ethical aspects (or lack thereof) of editing someone else’s work. This is rather going to be about how easy / hard / meaningful / artistic / feasible / selnsible it is to do it.

I had the privilege to be given a body of work of about 500 images from NYC, shot by my daughter (a photographer in her own right I may add with a large dose of pride!) on a recent trip there. When she started uploading stuff on her social media accounts, I noticed that there was a theme there – a certain chromatic pallette of pale yellows, browns and greens, very earthy in a sense, dreamy almost. This was by design: she chose to upload and present images that emanated that kind of vibe from the city. Incidentally, my take on NYC is completely different – I see it as a buzzing place with deep contrast, harsh colors, a mosaic of colors and shapes, much like it is culturally. So I asked her if she would be OK if I took a stab at editing her images and (being my daugter!) she was happy to oblige!

So the givens here are the following: (a) NYC, a place that I have been to as well, (b) a solid body of work shot in a week by the same person and (c) this person being my daugter, I #THOUGHT# I had an inside track as to what she had in mind as she was making these images. As it turned out, this last point was not exactly like that, but more on this in a moment!

I have a style of shooting and, through the years, I have developed a style of editing as well, essentially creating a “signature”. My editing is not extremely invasive; I crop (not very agressively) and correct the horizon / lines and I fiddle a bit with contrast, shadows / highlights, blacks / whites, texture and luminance. For the most part I could just dial these parameters on the camera and minimize the editing work, but it just so happens that I enjoy it, so I shoot “neutral” and then I edit.

As I imported the images into Lightroom, the first choice I had to make was to decide if I will edit them as if they were shot by me or her. Since the initiative was taken because I thought I could / would provide an alternative view, the choice was clear: I would edit as if I had shot them.

Really fast though, I realized that it is easier said than done. Would I have shot them the same way? Would I compose the same way, expose the same way, see the same things, recognize the same patterns and try to bring them out? Well, this is my daughter we are talking about, so we do share a fair amount of DNA and she has been seeing my pictures forever; surely I can get inside her mind as a shooter and recreate the scene, right? Well, no. Wrong! I found out that editing someone else’s work no matter how close they are to you and how much you think you relate to their viewpoint is not easy at all. Even if you have been to that same place. If not, it would be infinitely more difficult, because the editor would not have the benefit of the “vibe” the shooter got in the first place. But I decided to keep doing it.

I tried looking for patterns that she identified and caught her imagination and then I went a step further and identified some on my own. So I cropped a bit more aggressively than usual in order to bring out details that stood out in my mind and not necessarilly hers. The result was images that were somewhat removed from the starting point. Is this OK? I guess so, as long as the result has some artistic value on its own. Interesting side point here and I promise not to digress is that with the extremely capable sensors that are available today, composition is less important (oh my!) to some people (NOT me!) as they can always “extract” an image via cropping in post – vut we are not dealing with that here; we are talking about the secondary creation of an image through cropping by the editor, where initially there was another legitimate image as shot by the photographer. She is not pressing charges, so I think we are safe for now…

As I was “creating” these images, I changed the color signature significantly to something that was competely different from the initial material. IF one thinks of photography as an art that is there to document real life as it exists, without the slightest intervention (stylistically speaking), changing this color signature is a crime. But this is not documentary photography and it is not a paid job; this is more like an experiment, so I felt that there is value in creating images not from a clean slate, but from a starting point that was another photographer’s view. Slightly creepy if you think about it… The things we do for art…

Was it a rewarding experience? Absolutely! I loved doing it and she loved the result, so the experiment was a success. She actually posted both sets (hers and “mine”) on her flickr account so you can see both and get a first-hand idea of what I tried to convey with words in this post. Caveat: if you like hers more, please don’t tell me; we artists are pretty fragile🙂