Inspiration or Appropriation?



Inspiration or appropriation ?

I have been inspired by the work of Tina Modotti and in particular her Calla Lilies 1924, which gave me the idea to replicate her composition with my own interpretation of the arrangement of a plant. In addition, I have considered the work of Georgia O’Keeffe and Robert Mapplethorpe in my composition who have both produced very similar renditions, which has raised the question in my mind of who produced this style of image first and do I consider the subsequent images as being inspired by those before or simply appropriations.

In terms of who did what first, Modotti is the clear winner as her photograph Calla Lilies was taken in 1924, followed by Georgia O’Keeffe in 1927 with her painting Dark Iris and 60 years later in 1987 Robert Mapplethorpe produced his stunning Calla Lily.

I took inspiration for the Modotti image from the cover of her book; Tina Modotti Photographs and had it in mind to reproduce it when I found a suitable subject. I later saw the amazing Mapplethorpe photo Calla Lily at an exhibition of his work at Aberystwyth University and the O’Keeffe image is featured on the cover of my copy of the book Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. As Mapplethorpe’s photo was so similar to Modotti’s in name and composition I can only assume that he was aware of her image and wanted to pay homage to her and to add his own personality to the photo.

Stieglitz and O’Keeffe meet for the first time in 1908, but didn’t work together until 1918/20 and married in 1924. It has been written that Stieglitz and Weston had met as two major influencers of Modernism, also that Stieglitz ‘influenced’ Paul Strand and Ansel Adams. Tina Modotti was Edward Weston’s muse from 1923 to 1926 and it’s highly possible that Modotti met Stieglitz and even O’Keeffe and it’s within reason that O’Keeffe was aware of Modotti’s work or vice-versa and could therefore have influenced and inspired each other.

My approach has been solely ‘appropriation’ as I would usually consider to position the main subject in a composition by using the rule of thirds and not at the upper-most edge of my photo.

I had been observing the growth rate of the ferns whilst walking my dogs in Pembrey Country Park and I was looking for a scene with a contrasting background so as not to lose the fern in the green background. Access was difficult and necessitated me getting down amongst the forest debris. The lens isn’t the best for close-up shots but my Sigma 50mm f/2.8 is the only one I have with macro facility. I took a total of 20 shots of this scene; I needed to compensate for the limited focusing capabilities of my lens so I decided to use a setting of f/8 and to get a reasonable shutter speed to compensate for my awkward positioning I set the shutter to 1/125 which required ISO 1,000 under the tree canopy. I experimented with the WB and settled on ‘cloudy’ for the most faithful rendition. I am pleased with my experiment and my look into the possible historical contexts of the image but I am dissatisfied with my image and may re-shoot next spring with a better lens and a tripod.


Cornell-Richter, P. (2000) Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. Prestel.

Lowe, S.M. (1995) Tina Modotti – photographs: [Exhibition itinerary: Philadelphia museum of art, September 16, 1995 – November 26, 1995; the museum of fine arts, Houston, December 17, 1995 – February 25, 1996; San Francisco Museum of modern art, march 28, 1996 – June 2, 19. New York, NY: H.N. Abrams in association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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