Friday, February 19, 2010

Interesting - "Copycat or Not" - Burdeny vs. Leong

Well I must say this is interesting. From PDN Pulse - Copycat or Not? Photographer Challenged Over Look-Alike Work with an important follow up here: Copycat or Not, Part II: A Case of Nothing New Under the Sun? - about Daivid Burdeny and Sze Tsung Leong (and to some degree, Elger Esser who, as far as I am aware, is essentially the progenitor of this sort of work).

According to PDN Pulse Leong and gallerist Yosi Milo have come out and essentially seem to have accused Burdeny of plagiarism:
“These [Burdeny] works are identical [to Leong’s], particularly the pyramid [image],” says Leong’s New York gallerist, Yossi Milo. “The scale, the feel, the look—the similarities are quite alarming.” Milo says he learned of Burdeny’s work earlier this month after it went on exhibit at the Jennifer Kostuik Gallery in Vancouver. Milo notified Leong, who contacted his lawyer.
"Burdeny denies it, saying the similarities arose because he happened to shoot from some of the same tourist spots. And, he added, photographers--even famous ones--often mimic each other's work. So why single out Burdeny?"

Sze Tsung Leong, Seine I, 2006.

David Burdeny, River Seine II, Paris, 2009.

Sze Tsung Leong's "Horizons" exhibit, Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, April 2008.

David Burdeny's "Sacred and Secular" exhibit, Jennifer Kostuik Gallery, Vancouver, January 2010.

See the PDN Pulse articles above for a full range of examples

I talked about Burdeny not very long ago and mentioned that stylistically the work reminded me of Elger Essers work. As well as general "style" I was also thinking of the particular Esser picture that is very similar to the Paris/Seine photograph as the PDN piece shows (note that the Esser photograph isn't soft focus, it's just a poor quality jpg).

With hindsight I realise that the other chord being struck was indeed that of Leong's work. But as I'd only ever looked at maybe two or three of Leong's photographs - and never seen how they were sequenced - I hadn't caught all the correspondences.

So, what do you think? Copycat? Or as Burdeny seems to be arguing (and as PDN puts it with a little help from Ecclesiastes) nothing new under the sun? Everyone just happened to be photographing the same well know scenes from the same Kodak Viewpoint?

As a postscript I find that neither Burdeny's work (nor Leong's for that matter) comes close to Esser's.


petebrook said...


Many of the discussions on this have tried to figure out if this is plagiarism or not, and how one defines an original, an homage, a copy, etc and whether of not plagiarism in photography involves copying the idea or execution of the idea. ( or even the access to locations (

These are all good debates, but I return to a simple summary:

What Burdeny has done is bad-form and his lazy approach will damage his reputation. Burdeny will long be known as "the guy who ripped off Leong" (and Esser in your book).

I'd hate to have that smear hanging over my head.

Of course, as it's been suggested, there are plenty of other copycats who have gone undiscovered. It's virtually impossible not to echo another's work in photography.

Burdeny went too far though.

e.e.nixon said...

"It's virtually impossible not to echo another's work in photography."

I've been scratching my head about this controversy since it surfaced.

The first thing I did was look up the definition of 'plagiarism' in a number of online dictionaries; I didn't do an exhaustive survey however. If you have done the same, you'll know that the word usualy denotes the misappropriation of *words* and the failure to attribute or credit words and ideas you are using to their original sources.

In my mind, the concept becomes fuzzy when you think about photographing the world. Photography, it seems to me, is fundamentally the making of copies; by its nature it is an appropriation of other work, certainly if we focus on architectural or urban landscapes such as those in question. Where on the continuum of copying do you draw the line? And where on the continuum between documentary and art?

It is a simple fact that the two images of the Seine and Notre Dame are different images. It couldn't possibly be otherwise. It is impossible to make a complete copy of another photograph in the same sense one can copy an other person's words, with the intent of deception for one's own aggrandizement.

So what is being plagiarized if that is the right word? Taking one image out of context, I think it's difficult to say.

The question becomes clearer to me, however, when you look at the entire body of work. Doing so, I see an extremely high degree of similarity -- the whole 'point-of-view' or 'vision' or 'emotional tone' (if there is any emotion here) of Burdeny's collection is about as similar to Leong's as it could be. And it's hard to believe there is much of value to be said about the differences.

And perhaps it goes beyond a lack of prominent crediting or attribution.

Is it fair to cast stones at photographers when we look back at Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes and the larger context of the ready-made aesthetic? That's the part of the controversy that keeps me scratching. Duchamp, Warhol and others undermined some fundamental or traditional notions; I don't think we can go back.

So, are there values or philosophies attached to photography that separate it from the larger (and more powerful) currents of contemporary art? And, by doing so, sustain a kind of parochial, second citizen, status to photo work?

The advent of digital, the ubiquity of cameras (think of the work of 'art' recently created by the Chief of Police of the city of Dubai), and the ever closer networking of our collective view of the world, are all going to keep these questions before us. And hopefully ever more urgently demand answers. Or at minimum fuel a discussion.

TOM G said...

Burdeny has certainly dug himself into deep hole and he defense for his "appropriation" of other's work is weak at best. His claim about these being "tourist locations" doesn't hold water because he's only gone to the same "tourists locations" as Sze Tsung Leong and Esser. Why would he shoot the same house and tree along the banks of the Sacremento River that Esser did? By flipping the negative I guess he thought that it was fine, very strange indeed. How does he explain that his Artist Statement is very similar and in some cases identical to that of, yes you guessed it, Sze Tsung Leong's statements? Here's Leong's from 3 years ago and the Burdeny's from this year:

From Sze Tsung's statement:
"The images are photographed primarily with an 8-by-10-inch view camera, but also with 6-by-7- and 6-by-9-centimeter and 4-by-5-inch formats. Printed as analog chromogenic color prints, each image offers a finely grained density of visual information, rendered in the broad range of tonality made possible by the analog print."
And from David Burdeny's:
“The images are photographed with an 8”x10” view camera and printed as chromogenic color prints, Each image offers a finely grained density of visual information, rendered in the broad range of tonality only made possible by the 8”x10” inch transparency..."

Christina said...

Burdeny's work is entirely too similar to Leong's work to believe that he had never seen it before. At first glance it seems that the similarities could possibly be coincidental. However, after reading the artist statements it becomes clear that Burdeny ripped off Leong.

REB said...

In the first instance, Burdeny's work is not plagerism, by definition and as others have stated.

If Leong would have his way no one could produce an image in the same style as his. In photography, with digital camera and photoshopping, that will be an impossible conclusion.

The copying of an idea and execution of an idea, if limited to the originator and if applied across the spectrum of mankind and the evolution of ideas would lead to one of each idea and nothing else. The use of an idea and/or execution of an idea is neither copy written or trademarked.

Ideas that can demonstrate technical specifications mat be patented, however, I am sure that an image of some element of the World is not in that category.

The other element of this blog, is the individuals who are so quick to be critical, but even here they are plagerizing Leong and his idea that Burdeny did him wrong. His idea by those standards are his alone and should be expressed by others.

God forbid, in our society, if ideas become the sole property of the first who expresses the idea.

Tim's comment of Burdeny's lazy approach shows that he doesn't know Burdeny's work ethic.

Tom G. says “The images are photographed with an 8”x10” view camera and printed as chromogenic color prints, Each image offers a finely grained density of visual information, rendered in the broad range of tonality only made possible by the 8”x10” inch transparency..."

This description has always been evident in ALL of Burdeny's work.

By Tom G. standard, the use of any format would be owned by the initial user. Bluntly stated... Get a Life.