Art history is studded with cases of plagiarism and debates on the originality of the artwork, indeed uniqueness is often considered one of the fundamental criteria for the success of a piece. How many times have we given up on an idea just because we weren’t the first to have it? Our egos force us to be the only one coming up with something unique and never seen before. We want to be original, we want to be the first. “However, if there is a perfectly fine wheel available, why would you put all that time and effort in reinventing it again?” asked himself Max Siedentopf, photographer, director, publisher and designer you may already know for his evocative shootings for Gucci and for having courted controversy with his recent project How-To Survive A Deadly Global Virus. He gave himself an answer with his latest book Same, same but different which aims to challenge the taboo of employing the same idea twice, reminding us that in our constant hunt for unique ideas and authenticity, we often forget that execution matters just the same – or even more. Over 3 years, Siedentopf sent a dozen different ideas in the shape of drawings and short descriptions to over 50 international photographers to quite literally photograph the same idea, receiving back creative and unexpected results — one different from the other.
The book responds to the issues of referencing, copying and adaptation in creative arts with a practical and collaborative approach, typical of Max Siedentopf’s style — provocative, playful and ironic.
Read our Q&A with him to learn more about the project.
I am curious to know how you idea was born … Tell me more!
I like to work across many different creative disciplines, but doesn’t matter if it’s in art, photography, film or fashion, every time you see two works that have the same idea you’re often left with a negative feeling that someone else did that idea before. I think with creativity there is always a lot of ego involved that “only I could’ve come up with this and no one else”. However while working on my magazine ORDINARY where each issue revolves around one ordinary object that is sent to different creatives around the world to make it extra-ordinary, I noticed a few times that it actually happens quite often that two people just naturally have the same idea and thought process. I wanted to explore this and challenge this taboo of using the same idea twice and instead turn it into something positive.
How did you select the 50 participants?
I was interested in seeing as much diversity and variation in the interpretation of the ideas as possible, so I tried to find as many different people and styles from all around the world to take part.
Have you ever been accused of copying someone?
Just yesterday. I think it’s very natural that sometimes two people have the same idea or same starting point and the higher your output the more likely someone somewhere will have made the same, but like “Same, Same But Different” tries to question, why does it need to be negative?
Have you ever been copied?
Just yesterday. However, I think an imitation is the biggest honor for your work. I think that’s quite impressive to see a stranger or brand going through all the effort and time to copy an idea. More importantly though and what I find really interesting is that if enough people repeat the process and copy a copy which gets copied again, you actually end up with something completely new again, so copying can’t be that bad, can it?
In this spirit I just released TOILETPAPA a bootleg issue of Toiletpaper magazine, where I reenacted in my parent’s home some of my favorite photographs of the magazine, using my father as a model.
In your projects you often play the role of the director giving instructions to others, but keeping a certain degree of unpredictability. Besides Same, same but different, I’m thinking about Home Alone – A survival guide, the project you’re running now on IG relating the self-isolation.
I think it’s a good balance to all the work I make on my own. The most important part for me in anything I do is the idea — the execution comes second and I don’t mind if I or someone else executes that idea.
I think the beauty of making something with other people is exactly this unpredictability — most instructions are always thought of with enough room for interpretation. I love to be surprised and see other interpretations which in turn of course also help you learn and grow from other people’s approaches. Creativity is very subjective, there’s no right or wrong way to do it.
This is just as important for the project I’m currently running on IG. Since COVID-19 flipped the entire world upside down and forced most people to self-isolate, many people were faced with the harsh reality of having their shoots and other jobs canceled. For me “Home Alone” is a way to show that even if you’re confined to home you can still continue to find ways to create fun work. No matter how dark times might be, I think you should never give up on your smile. I think this is also a very important moment in time because it’s almost like a big pause button was pressed and you can also use this forced free time to reflect on your past work or use it to create something new that you haven’t done before. .
On social media we see many similar images every day, images that look alike in composition, colors, subject and so on. Somehow, unconsciously, we are influenced by these “visual stereotypes”, not only artistically but also in the way we look at things in our daily lives. How can we manage to keep our personal point of view amidst this endless stream of pre-constructed images?
Drink an entire bottle of vodka, spin around in a circle and then do a handstand for 1 minute. If even this doesn’t help you look differently and shape your point of view then I would recommend just doing what ever you like and what feels good to you and not worry too much about the rest.
Haha! Right. You know, I find that all your projects are very immediate and clear. How do you do it? What is your working process?
I wish there was a formula or process, it would make everything a lot easier, but usually it’s a gut feeling and a thought that just pops up.
In terms of the message — I’m originally from Namibia, the second least dense populated country in the world with the oldest desert in the world, there’s a lot of sand and beautiful nature but not a lot of art around and I think that influenced the work I make — I want to make work that anyone can understand immediately, even someone far, far away, like in the Namibian desert. I personally think there’s too much work out there that tries to be overly complicated and outsmart itself that only a certain group of people is allowed to understand it.
You have been creative partner at Kessels Kramer, the communication agency founded by Erik Kessels and Johan Kramer in 1995. Can you tell me more about your experience there?
Since I was 18 my dream was to one day work for Kessels Kramer. From the moment I saw the work, I really identified with the studio’s unorthodox way of approaching communication and was absolutely in love with the radical work that was made end of the 90s / early 2000s which always had a very dry but smart humor and strong core idea.
That being said I was very fortunate that after university I got to work at their LA office and from there on to work at both their Amsterdam and London office, making me the only one that got to work and experience all three offices and at 25 I was asked to become a partner and creative director. However I think sometimes to grow and try new approaches you need to move on and so I recently stepped down from Kessels Kramer to focus on my own work. My nonetheless vision is of course very much shaped by my time at Kessels Kramer and will always have a special place in my heart.
Your work is often “Instagram-based”, so that we could define you a “viral artist”. Tell me, what does a viral artist do?
I’d imagine it’s someone that ideally likes to spend a lot time at the beach in the sun and generally have a good time.
When did you realize that Instagram had an artistic potential?
Honestly speaking — very late. However I think the strength of Instagram, as it currently exists and it’s a continuously evolving, is that it acts like a magic box that ties everything together. In less than two swipes with my index finger, I get to see what my sister made for dinner, the latest world news or Vogue editorial, a funny dog meme and the newest work of my favorite artist. This interconnectedness of everything of course has a lot of artistic potential — inspiration wise you have an unlimited pool of visual input from unlimited sources, you can showcase your work to one billion people without any gallery standing in your way and you can find new collaborators from anywhere in the world in a matter of clicks. I think that’s pretty good.
Do you think that Instagram will always have a leading role in social medias or are we already moving towards something else? What are the next scenarios about social media in your opinion?
I think the best thing is if you ask a 12 year old this question. I’m 28 and I already feel like I’m missing the train.