Doing Stuff First. Or Not.

We’ve all had it happen, professionals, amateurs, beginning photogs alike. You think you have a great idea…gonna go shoot this cool new concept…then whammo. You see it done by somebody else. You can have more respect for it done well and less for it done poorly, but it’s the idea that counts. And “they” beat you to it.

Know what I say about that stuff? Get used to it.

FWIW, (and if it makes anybody out there feel any better – god knows I need to hear “same here” from some of you…), this happens to me all the time. All my little scribbles and journal notes and lists of ideas, gone poof in an instant.

One such occasion for me–a brilliant idea I had many years ago but failed to execute on–goes something like this…(click the ‘continue reading’ link below)

It’s the idea to shoot celebrity look-alikes in somewhat (or rather ‘very’) compromising situations, and do so in a waaaaay underproduced manner, such as to mimic a bad paparazzi shot. Just think of the fun you could have, I thought. My mind went nuts… And (gasp!) think of the trouble you could get in! Think of the social commentary, and the comment about paparazzi that it would make, and hell, even the commercial applications! And…

Well, rest assured it’s been done, and done well by Alison Jackson, this image and opener, above. The work is fantastic – she takes beyond where I would have. And she’s got herself a great new book to boast for it as well, thanks to those wonderful purveyors of the widest range of hipster coffee table books on the planet, Taschen. (Check out their site or their brick and mortar at 107 Greene Street in NYC. Buy the book here. (BTW, if you’re out there listening, the cover design for Jackson’s book is not good…but don’t judge a book by it’s cover.) To get a flavor for the images she’s compiled since she started shooting this stuff in 1999, visit her mock celebrity news site, AJ News. The concept was also done this year by Shaul Schwarz for Getty. I personally prefer Ms. Jackson’s take, but that’s just me.

So three morals: 1) Go check out Jackson’s new book; 2) People are going to beat you to ideas. Get used to it and do not lament it. Work through/beyond it; 3) Go shoot that winning concept that is in your head TODAY. I guarantee that somebody else has the same idea and they’re planning their shoot right now. Remember: Ideas? Worth very little. Actions on those ideas? Priceless.

[Worthy side note is that both shooters of this concept mentioned above had their work on this topic featured in the 2008 PDN Photo Annual. Congrats Alison and Shaul. Check out the 2008 PDN Photo Annual gallery here. Look for killer work by John Offenbach, Raymond Meier, Julia Fullerton-Batten, Justin Mott, and others. Or to learn about the two categories that I somehow snagged (lied, cheated, stole, bribed my way into winning?) click the shameless press link here.]

26 Responses to Doing Stuff First. Or Not.

  1. FaconBacon68 May 28, 2008 at 1:34 am #

    first, last, inspired, copied. I hear ya mate. that happens to me all the time ~ I’m always late to the game. I thought it only happened to us hacks! Good to know you’re human too =D !!

    God knows I’ve seen a lot of shots of ninja’s out there since last year. You were the first on that one!

  2. Mark May 28, 2008 at 1:44 am #

    Yea, me too.
    I often shoot an idea (or not) and see it done by someone else previously (sometimes better dammit).

    I’ve seen the book by the way, great fun to look through :)

  3. Jay McLaughlin May 28, 2008 at 1:56 am #

    I’ve got a whole bunch of ideas I want to shoot this summer. I reeeeeeeeeeally won’t be happy if someone else beats me to it!!!!

  4. Chuck May 28, 2008 at 4:59 am #

    I dont think I’ve ever had an origional idea. Wait, there was this one… Nope, that was “inspired by” someone else.

  5. Paul Swortz May 28, 2008 at 6:00 am #

    Great post Chase, and too true. Just happened to me, and while I was tempted to call off the shoot, decided the thing to do was proceed and just try to execute better.

    Comparing my results with the others, they weren’t better … just different.

    That’s the beauty of this art and of our audiences – our audiences are diverse enough and large enough for there to be welcoming recipients of everyone’s interpretation.

  6. Tony May 28, 2008 at 6:14 am #

    LOL, I get my ideas from others…funny

  7. Chris Norris May 28, 2008 at 6:26 am #

    I’ve been scooped as well. I had a shot that I really liked: a long exposure of tons of bugs flying in front of a light. I pimped it, people liked it, and then I saw the same kind of shot in the Museum of Contemporary Photography. I’m not sure exactly who was first, but the one in the museum was definitely a notch or two higher quality than mine.

  8. Michael May 28, 2008 at 6:40 am #

    Yup .. happened to me several times. And as you rightly say: get used to it :). The good thing is to have more than just one idea at a time.
    As for the Ninja example, people have shot Ninjas before but I guess you where the first to do it in a highly produced way. So what’s the solution to it other than be fast? I don’t want to be just fast with stuff only to be first but then compromise on quality and execution.
    Is this the point where openness and transparency needs to stop and photographers return to silos?


  9. Chase Jarvis May 28, 2008 at 7:55 am #

    @ michael: no no no! It’s not a return to some older, grumpier days. It now forces open acknowledgment that we get our ideas from a myriad of places, spaces and people. PUT YOUR NOTES ON IT. Recognize that there are so many ideas that truly ORIGINAL ideas are quite difficult to nail down… Be okay with that! It’s way more about acknowledging similarities, nodding to inspiration, and most importantly try to find cracks and explore them! The cracks will come from looking inside you, since your personal experiences and emotions offer the greatest opportunity for rendering something unique – even if it (like almost everything else) has been shot before.

  10. Pieter May 28, 2008 at 12:11 pm #

    Something I heard recently: talent = engagement + execution

  11. Michael May 28, 2008 at 1:05 pm #

    Chase I agree that we should not return to those silos or older days. As a photographer I (and I can only speak for myself) can’t help but be influenced by other people’s work. I look at so many websites and magazines that it’s almost impossible. And I also believe that it is true even for the most creative folks. Even if it’s not a magazine or other photographer’s website but a TV show or movie. And you already made the statement that it influences you and everybody who says it comes only from one self should check if that’s really true. Now the tricky question becomes what’s a nod and what’s simply seen as a copy (even if it’s not). A very good example of such a situation also is the work of Jennifer Rocholl and Jan van Holleben. Similar concepts but different execution. Jennifer won a PDN award and now people are thinking she pulled a copy of Jan’s work (see also

    So I agree with you (which doesn’t help for a long lasting debate, does it? :) that you always need to include your own life, your own views into your images. And I hope not that the transparency ends at this point because I absolutely enjoy looking over your shoulder to see how someone else does stuff.

    So thanks for the inspiration.


  12. Richard Cave May 28, 2008 at 3:04 pm #

    Hey Chase there I was sat in my studio with a pair of ninjas, I was going to bounce them off the walls with trampolines, so i check my email and noticed some sod in from the states had already done it. So I sack said ninjas and get in a bonnie and clyde looka like and have them commit crimes. Whilst downloading I peruse the net, ahh the same bloke had already done it. Well hope he is not reading this as I am about to shoot space monkeys in tutus, it is a winner hope the other chap does not beat me to it……


    Banana ready, Tsaichovsky on mp3 cue monkeys…

  13. Simon Duhamel May 28, 2008 at 3:18 pm #

    I picked up a copy of the book after stumbling on an article about Alison Jackson’s work a couple of months ago. What a cool concept! And I just love the roughed up aesthetic of it all. It would’ve been nice to see the Chase Jarvis take on it though!

  14. Richard Cave May 28, 2008 at 3:43 pm #

    If you think the book is good you should the TV series in the UK, cannot remember what it is called but it was done by the BBC from waht I remember.


  15. FERDYMAN May 28, 2008 at 6:07 pm #

    Jack at playboy mansion ha ha ha ha

    Jack rules….

  16. Chase Jarvis May 28, 2008 at 6:59 pm #

    Want to be clear – I’m fully against getting grumpy about all this. Point is that this stuff happens, and will continue to happen forever and ever. We have to be comfortable with this as artists. Embrace it. It reminds you that you had an idea worth shooting ;)

  17. Chuck May 29, 2008 at 5:09 am #

    So when I was about 8 years old, (that woulda been in 1986 or so) my dad took a week off work during my summer vacation to rebuild the motor of his “69 Plymouth Baracuda. He was explaining this and that and basically how an engine works. I asked him “Why dont you just have 4 cylinders working when you dont need to go fast, and 8 when you wanna RACE?” “Well son, there’s no way we can adjust the timing to accomodate that.” Low and behold 20 years later, GM comes out with “Displacement On Demand” where only 4 cylinders work at highway speed or during light loads, and 8 cylinders kick in during acceleration and towing!

  18. Neal Reiter June 2, 2008 at 4:38 pm #

    I have always looked that this like music. There are only so many notes on a guitar but yet so many new and innovating sounds are created every day. Take for example the blues progression, the base for most rock music. Howling Wolf made some amazing music but Tom Waits uses the same chords to create something different. Or just look at what Jack White can do. If you have a great idea, shoot it! It will always be your own.

  19. Chase Jarvis June 22, 2008 at 4:48 pm #

    Neal: It’s like notes in music or like a language – finite number of inputs (say 26 letters in English), but an infinite number of possible word/sentence/concept combinations. Finite input, infinite output.

  20. Anonymous August 14, 2008 at 8:27 am #

    Hi Chase. I am such a huge silent fan, but about having a orig. idea, well Joe M and I did and he, being the kind man he is, not to mention one of the best and most professional photographers in the world did just that. An orig. idea that, at least I, has never been seen. Take a look at Joe’s latest blog if you’ve not already….
    Best to you and yours.
    Tom and Jared

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