An Open Letter from Alain Laboile to Niki Boon
It is not with a light heart that I have come to write this letter. It is the result of a genuine suffering that the people close to me and I have been experiencing because of you.
As you must already know, in 2006 I started my photographic series, “La Famille” (The Family), documenting my family of eight’s everyday life in rural France. My pictures have since been repeatedly published and exhibited all over the world. I am represented in various galleries and my work is also part of the permanent collection of the French Museum of Photography.
I discovered your work a few months ago when you contacted me to tell me about your interest in my photographs. You then contacted my wife to express your enthusiasm about our family lifestyle, which resembled yours : home-schooled siblings, raised in the open and without television. I immediately noticed the uncanny resemblance between our two photographic works, but did not wish to devote my energy in sharing my growing unease. I resolved to forget about you.
But in recent weeks, it became impossible to ignore your photographs : web articles, publications, photo contests… You became overly present in the photographic world and it has become difficult to escape this overflow, even more when we evolve in the same networks. Forcibly faced with your pictures, I have come to this sad conclusion : they are an obvious plagiarism of my work.
Inspiration is natural, you would say, even flattering. Absolutely, when it is indeed limited to inspiration. In your case, it goes far beyond that :
An uncanny resemblance between our pictures, when yours were published after mine’s. Here are some examples, some could not be precisely dated but the models age leaves no doubt as to the fact that yours are more recent.
- © Alain Laboile. 09.12.2012
- © Niki Boon - 2014
- © Alain Laboile - 16.03.2012
- © Niki Boon
- © Alain Laboile - 2014
- © Niki Boon - 2016
- © Alain Laboile- 13.04.2015
- © Niki Boon - 26.06.2015
- © Alain Laboile - 19.07.2010
- © Niki Boon
A very similar post-production and black and white processing of the pictures
Similitude in the subject (our children’s wild lifestyle) and the settings (children using tractor tubes as floating devices, playing on the swing and the hammock, playing with the wheelbarrow, the mud, the water jet, animal’s skulls and other insects and small creatures) all of it treated in the same artistic style.
A very similar artist statement, with paraphrased bits of mine (as seen on the portfolios published on the LensCulture website – lensculture.com).
- capture d’écran de la présentation d’Alain Laboile sur le site lensculture.com
- Capture d’écran de la présentation de Niki Boon sur le site Lensculture.com
We do not pretend to have a monopoly over that lifestyle, but, when you had a thousand ways to shoot your universe, you deliberately chose to reproduce mine. You systematically gloss over me in interviews where you are asked about your influences : the readers usually do it for you.
As such, I would like to remind you of the definition of plagiarism :
“Plagiarism is a moral, civil or commercial misconduct punishable by law that consists in copying an author or using the work of an artist without citing him or telling so. It also consists in deriving inspiration from a model that you do not name, either on purpose or by negligence. It is often considered as immaterial theft.” (Wikipedia)
This is an unacceptable situation for me, it is unfair, even detrimental :
- I feel flouted, stripped of my artistic work
- It confuses the audience, they sometimes have trouble distinguishing between our pictures
- It trivializes my work
- It restricts my creative impulse as I now dread to see my works reproduced
- I am overwhelmed by the references to your work : mentions on Facebook, emails, articles about you that people share with me to warn me about your plagiarism
You have a beautiful subject, find your own way to treat it, your own shots, your own compositions, use your own words : create your own style. Be an author and photographer, not the interpret of the work of others. To this date, this letter is not part of any legal action. It only aims at re-establishing the truth about the origin of the work with which you try so dishonestly to win-over the photographic world. You were a commercial photographer specialized in family coverage, so you had the mastery of photographic technique. By relying on my photographic work, which you obviously knew, you have usurped my style and copied my pictures, obnoxiously borrowed the terms of my artist statement and used them as your own.
Answer from Niki Boon to Alain Laboile
First of all, it is with sorrow that I read your letter. To hear my work has contributed to any kind of grievance is really disappointing. Whilst I acknowledge the similarities you point out, I can categorically state that I have never intentionally copied any of your work, or that of anyone else. Our children are fortunate enough to lead similar lifestyles. We live on a farm, we home school our kids and I have been capturing this lifestyle with images for over ten years, sharing online in recent years. It is inevitable the universal language of nature, mud, water, etc, will exist in our pictures.
I have thousands of images of my children in this environment, hundreds of which I have now shared on facebook, that you have found five that are similar is not surprising given the similarities in our lifestyles. Did I copy them… no. In fact three of your images I did not even know before now. All of my images have a back story because they are all genuine captures of our lifestyle. For example, the image with the leaves as ears – a trick my youngest daughter learned from her older cousin, she picked up these leaves and said ‘Mama - I am a bunny’ and scrunched her nose up like a rabbit, she was so excited. I photographed that. It is not a great photo, but one that still holds meaning to me, because I remember her joy at finding those leaves that made her magically become a ‘bunny’, - that is a special memory for me and one that I retain, regardless of accusations of intentional plagiarism.
I seek inspiration from a huge range of sources and mediums, and yes, artists as well. Are your images an inspiration ? Yes, as are those of so many others. But have I ever sought directly to copy your or anybody else’s work ? No.
About our post-production processing of the pictures - I simply do not see it. I asked the advice of some respected photographers that I am fortunate to know. They all replied that behind the obvious similarities (black and white photos of children), my pictures possess numerous differences in photographic approach. They encouraged me to ignore the few who could not see the difference and continue to do what I do.
My artist statement, the sentence you point out is remarkably similar, but you might note the remaining few paragraphs are without resemblance. In coming up with that statement I received help from a wonderful writer, I knew what I wanted to say, but was struggling with the words.
Alain, you are a world-famous photographer with books, galleries and deserved fame, it was never my intention to upset you or anyone else with my words or images. If this is the effect it has had with you then I would have happily removed images or words at your request anytime, you only needed to ask.
I am no master of photography, and I can hardly claim to be a commercial photographer with most of my artwork deriving from family and friends. I have tried to contact you several times with genuine intent, because I admire your work, but equally because I recognise the similarities in our respective lifestyles. It is a shame you chose not to respond. Why couldn’t we have just talked about this ?
My work has only ever been shared for positive reasons and to hear that it has been received in such an unfortunate way is certainly disappointing, but I must be very clear – I stand 100% behind the integrity of my body of work.