Give Credit Where It is Due
December 25th, 2016 by David LaBelle

By having a vision and waiting for a modern automobile to pass and contrast those autos pictured, I added my signature to one of the beautiful floodwall murals designed and painted by Robert Dafford and the Dafford Muralists of Lafayette, Louisiana, on the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky. The project began in 1996; the last panel was completed in 2007.
Photo by David LaBelle

When putting your signature on another artist’s work, be respectful and add value

I remember walking into a café in Arizona and being met by a large photographic print of the Grand Canyon. What struck me first was not the majesty of the beautiful cavity, but the size of the photographer’s name printed in giant, bold type beneath the image.

How arrogant, I thought. The photographer had done so little—basically made a record, a copy of another’s artwork—then had the nerve to shout his name on the print as though he had done something great, too.

His bold name sought equal billing with the One, the artist who fashioned the canyon.

If you created something beautiful or even unique and I put my name on it, wouldn’t you feel robbed?

OK, so I am being a bit dramatic here, but it is to make a point: Taking a few snapshots with a digital or film camera of another’s creation, another’s artwork, does not make me an artist. It makes me a copy machine.

I am not diminishing the eye of the artist—whether with brush or camera—but unless I add new composition, light, vision, perspective, interpretation or point of view, I am little more than a copy machine.

If I put my name on another’s artwork, isn’t this a form of visual plagiarism?

Reproducing another’s artwork is a way of honoring the artist. But when we make a picture of another’s artwork—painting, mural, sculpture, statue, building, bridge, etc.—then strut around like we have done something great, we ought to consider who gets the greater credit.

By incorporating human forms or dramatic light, interesting foreground or background, you create new composition and reverently put your signature on another’s artwork, be it landscape, mural, architecture or bronze or marble sculpture.

God gives us everything—the light, the color, the eyes to see and compose and interpret, even the heart to appreciate. He allows us, even encourages us, to add our point of view.

With any creation, any art, shouldn’t we tread quietly, reverently, giving honor and glory to the true artist?

Challenge yourself to put your signature on another’s artwork, like comments in a gallery book. See the creation in a different, maybe dramatic, light. Compose a portion of the artwork using shadows and life forms reacting or participating in the artwork.

As with any gift, we ought to give thanks to the creator.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit