Did This Award-Winning Photographer Plagiarize a Local Photographer’s Work?

Did This Award-Winning Photographer Plagiarize a Local Photographer’s Work?

Recently recognized by the 2020 World Press Photo contest, Fading Flamingoes, a project which documents a lake in northern Iran and its environmental issues, bears a striking resemblance to the work of a photographer from the region itself. Has this photojournalist effectively stolen this project, or is there more to the story?

As reported by Kaveh Rostamkhani, the project shot by Maximillian Mann and awarded by the World Press Photo Contest shares a few vantage points and various themes with the work of Iranian photographer Solmaz Daryani, with Rostamkhani also commenting that some of the editing is similar. There are certainly parallels and the visits to some of the obscure locations suggest that there is more than just an overlap.

As one would expect, Daryani is upset at the alleged copying of her work, made worse by the fact that a photojournalist was able to “parachute in” to document a topic that is very much a part of her life. “I share so many personal bonds with it,” she tells Rostamkhani. “Now it is hijacked.”

Speaking to Mann, however, the evidence is not as clear as it might first seem. Mann has published a response (zip file containing jpegs and PDF) to the accusation which explains the research he went through before undertaking the project. “I acknowledge that in the selection I submitted to World Press Photo,” he explains, “there are similarities to the work of Solmaz Daryani that cannot be dismissed.” However, he explains that Daryani’s project is incredibly diverse, and when seen in the context of the entirety of each project, the parallels are not so glaring. “I find it regrettable that the huge differences between our works are ignored.”

He goes on to explain the themes and locations that Rostamkhani draws attention to, and cites the work of various other photographers whose photographs of the lake also focus on certain aspects.

Screenshot from Mann's response to the accusations of plagiarism.

Screenshot from Mann's response to the accusations of plagiarism.

Two photographers focusing on the same topic — especially when it is tied to a specific location, however large that location — will have some shared ground, but how easy is it to avoid replicating someone else's work and when can accusations of plagiarism be justified? Leave your comments below.

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Joe Svelnys's picture

Though different (I know)... This reminds me of the article about a month ago where two different photographers using two different cameras and lenses, and standing in two different locations took a photo at the exact same subject and at the exact same moment; the differences in the final image being so minute it raised a debate if one stole from the other. The photo was of a lighthouse in a storm.

Timothy Turner's picture

How many photographs have been taken of iconic places like half dome, or other places and they all look very similar, and no one feels violated by other photographers,

Matthias Dengler's picture

because it's a different genre.

Johnny Rico's picture

The toning on Maximillian Mann's photos is horrid, especial if it's coming from a photojournalist perspective.

Les Sucettes's picture

I looked at the work of both and they’re different. Substantially. Just because Mann shot the same scenes doesn’t make it plagiarism. Daryani’s photographs are solid but they aren’t Awardworthy. It sucks. Grow up

William Faucher's picture

Pretty much every single person with a phone these days takes photos. Some are better than others, but photos are being taken nonetheless. It is darn near impossible to take a unique shot nowadays. If you think something you shot hasn't been done before, chances are you're wrong. Feeling violated because someone else saw the same composition or subject as you is a little ridiculous.

In this case, the framing is different. The photographer is clearly in a different position than the "original" image. The subject is different. Different time of day, too.

This reminds me of the Tank Man photos, where many, many photographers shot the same iconic image, and yet only one of them became famous because his framing was ever so slightly different.

Jan Holler's picture

In my humble opinion, it did not. I read his statement and it convinced me. One could debate whether the choice of the jury is a good one if there are that many similar looking photographies. But Mann is not to blame for the jury's decision.

D M's picture

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” ~~Steve Jobs

Ivan Lantsov's picture

not same neither is good!

Farbod Green's picture

I'm from Iran, and I have to say most young Iranian artists have no sense of respect for copyrights and stealing ideas. I feel it's safe to say it that way because I'm also Iranian. what goes around comes around... BUT!!!

but let's talk about something important here. I know it's not always easy to take sides when these things happen. however, personally I believe that taking a single or two similar images is fine but when it goes to a degree where it's called a project that's something else. additionally, if that project is represented worldwide especially in a contest. if we look at the bright side we can say they both did what a photojournalist should do and that's to point their lens toward an important subject/issue, but in order to do that, there are tones of other locations and framing options which people can do to bring the attention to their story.

they both have documented the same locations and some shots are so identical when it comes to framing and editing. but in some other shots despite the fact that the framing is different but the general script (story) of the image is absolutely the same. people taking selfies with a stick, kids playing football, burning the grass or whatever. these might not be the everyday life at the Lake.

After all, it shouldn't be about who took better shots or who took it first. It's about who did what with those pictures. one will take them to win a prize and one will document it for life...

I also have a shot that whoever visits the Louvre Museum will certainly face the exact same situation and that's the crowd in front of Monalisa Painting. I got featured on Fstoppers Instagram with that image, I'm sure there are so many other photographers who took much better shots than I did. have I researched or went through other photographers who took the same shot? absolutely not. but if I have done that, I wouldn't proudly put my name under it. at least I would talk about the person who did the same thing before me as an Inspiration as many filmmakers and songwriters do.

I see there are people here who say Mann did better in capturing the shots. I'm sure Daryani could also enter the contest with those pictures long before Mann did because she at some points took shots which are better than Mann and Mann have some others which are better than hers. they both have some good shots here and there.

I hope I'm not offending anyone (mainly my fellow Iranian photographers and Maximillian Mann) with this long comment.

Tony N's picture

The original one is much better than the awarded copy cat both in the tone, the set up and the subtle expression of the man. And I did the search, it is not one photo but it is the whole series.

The comparison to photos of public objects is funny. This is a set up in a private space to tell a daily life story. Also, why dont these so-called artists “have same genius ideas” as Henri Cartier-Bresson but usually it is always “accidentally same ideas” with some unknown local photographers? Reading through all the comments, it seems obvious that it is totally ok to cheat, as long as you can find a reason to justify yourself. Lol.

Sascha Rheker's picture

This thing just turned really ugly!

Today's statement from DOCKS Collective regarding the accusations from Kaveh Rostamkhani and Solmaz Daryani against Maximilian Mann, seems to be well researched and sounds quite convincing.

According to their research Rostamkhani and/or Solmaz used previously unpublished photos to fabricate their claims of plagiarism after Mann was nominated by WPP.

In short: No photographer can copy or plagiarize pictures that you have never seen before!

So the whole affair now looks rather like an attempt to destroy Mann's career that was initiated just after he received the WPP nomination.


Les Sucettes's picture

It’s been bollocks from the beginning. The body of work is completely different. Did she even submit her work? It’s pretty second grade ...