I guess I should be flattered, imitation is supposedly the highest form of flattery, but I am not sure what I feel, and what I’m really not sure about, is why someone would applaud or even hire a vision that is by it’s very nature “second-rate.”
True, it may be a virtuoso performance. It may be filled with all the contemporary photo techniques to help fulfill it vision, but despite all its efforts, one is still left with an imitation.
In the early 1990′s when I was beseeching people to hire me for fashion assignments, I thought I could get to see Donna Karan, as she had a personal relationship with my father, having working for him in the 60′s and 70′s. I never did get to see Donna Karan until years later when I took her portrait, but I did manage to see Patti Cohen, her long time confidant and assistant. At that time, Patti was the gatekeeper and it seemed that Donna Karan totally trusted her.
So one afternoon I brought my portfolio of prints to their offices, and like many photographers before me, I showed her my work. Despite the pandemonium around us, and the distractedness of Pati Cohen, something happened that day that I remember well.
About two-thirds of the way through the portfolio, she stopped and although speaking to denizens of people around her at the same time as looking at my work, she paused everything for a brief moment and looked directly at me and declared emphatically, “Oh my God! This is the Real Thing!”
Although I was never hired by Donna Karan, apparently they too did not want the real thing. They too only wanted to copy it, as they did years later, and ended up remunerating me for their efforts. I have never forgotten Patti Cohen’s brief, quiet comment to me. What did she see in my work that was so different than all the work that preceded it? What in my work made it the real thing? What is the real thing?
Today I think I know. I realize that there is always much in life to imitate and the urge to do so is enormous, yet I also realize that to be original one has to look deep within themselves and find what no one else can copy, a very private voice.
Often this is difficult and painful and requires a self-awareness that many people do not have or want. But if one speaks honestly and to thine own self be true, they too may find a way to be their own real thing. I have tried to express my own feelings about the world in my work. These expressions could only come from me and my own personal experiences. If they are the real thing, it is only because they are unique to me and represent a real and honest expression of my life.
So young man, the man some photographers have written to me in outrage, the man photo magazines have applauded as original and new, I say to you, “Although you can fool most of the people all the time,” please remember you can’t fool me.