We've seen this so often that we have an entire section named Badland, usually to discuss the copying of ideas - everything from media ideas to banner ideas. But straight up image copies happen too, like when Madonna was sued for copying Guy Bodain, and a Dexim ad copied the exact look of a Jamie Nelson photograph. It is in that context that I'd like to discuss Tyler Shields. As you may know, Shields is the photographer who just harpooned Kathy Griffin's career by making her pose with Donald Trump's disembodied head. While Ms Griffin has been canned from her annual CNN new Years Eve job, had her spokesperson career for Squatty Potty halted and had comedy events cancelled, nobody seems to have paid much attention to the photographer behind the image.
One could high-brow it and argue that the severed head image is a reference to Judith with the Head of Holofernes, or maybe it's a photographic response to the Der Spiegel cartoon cover. Perhaps it is as simple as just being inspired by ISIS recent images of beheadings that have crept into our collective unconscious for years now. But no matter how you look at Tyler Shields' body of work, you'll and up noticing after a while that the images all feel quite familiar. Even straight up copied, but staged.
Henry Leutwyler has even called Tyler Shields out on Instagram, for his "pointe" photo of a ballerinas feet that looks like a direct copy of Henry's photograph of same. He has gotten no response.
We are certainly not the first ones to notice, Vice has written a long article Is Celebrity Photographer Tyler Shields Inspired, Or Copying Other Artists?
The Vice article speaks to other artists and Paddy Johnson, art critic and founder of Art F City, about Tyler Shields work. Paddy is not impressed.
Johnson told me that, in her opinion, Shields's copying of other's work was not the biggest problem with his photographs. "The issue with the work of Tyler Shields isn't so much that he's copying so many artists' work—though his shouldn't be an artistic model to aspire to—but that his appropriations replace the unique vision of the original with the cheap ploys of shock or nostalgia," she said in an email.
"Take the Sally Mann rip-off : you never forget the original for the child's defiant gaze while holding a cigarette," Johnson wrote. "She's not an adult, but she's at the stage where you can begin to see who she will become emerge. And in that photo, it seems almost a little too early. With Shields', there's no authenticity to the photograph. It's staged from beginning to end, so what you get is a child striking a pose with two women in the background gazing sexily at the camera. Are they what she is to become or are they just ornaments for the photo? Either way, Shields takes what began as an incredibly haunting photograph and turns it into an art postcard."
There's - naturally - a Tumblr dedicated to Tyler Shields plagiaristic style. Tyler Shields exposed, where the most recent entry quotes Tyler's own Twitter account as he says "Have you ever seen anything like this before?" with the visual retort "Yes, we have and so did you."
Tyler's blood and gore obsession has had Lindsey Lohan posing with knives and blood spatter and women giving BJ's to guns, so it was really only a matter of time before he was inspired by ISIS beheadings in order to "push the envelope." The surprising thing is that despite such obvious plagiarism and now an image that got Kathy Griffin fired so fast her career may have screeched to a halt and early retirement - Tyler Shields' phone keeps ringing. Perhaps his "Shields" name is an actual shield.