Proprietary Photography

As an aspiring photographer, scrolling through my Instagram can be hugely demotivating.  Many people have been to many places and take many, many pictures:  Girls in front of waterfalls, climbers on their fingertips, dudes with their back to the camera on a ridge, lakes and trees and rivers, etc. etc.  

It seems that everything has been shot, a depressing phenomena of sharing your unique adventures with a like minded audience in a world where both sharing and adventure are getting easier and easier.  

Can we draw the line on what is proprietary in this endeavor?  This morning photographer Tim Kemple drew a line on the Dawn Wall, calling out Jimmy Chin for swiping his shot verbatim.  

On Sunday, Chin posted a photo of Kevin Jorgeson on the Dawn Wall.  Today, Kemple reminded the Instagram community that he shot Jorgeson on the same hold of the pitch two years earlier.  

“They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery... But what do you call shooting the same athlete, on the same 3000' wall, with the same lighting two years later? The word stealing comes to mind...” Kemple ranted (his words).


The photo’s are pretty damn close, but not identical.  Personally I prefer Kemple’s iteration with a warm blast of eponymous sun behind Jorgeson.  Better conditions, better timing.

Can we own shots?  Is there a threshold of difficulty that earns a photographer a hands-off composition?  Or is the only threshold what a photographer is capable of capturing?  

I think it speak to something larger, why many are drawn to the mountains.  Every climber and mountaineer has something in their DNA that makes them want to go where others can’t, to experience the unique and rewarding, to see things the normal schleps of the world cannot.  When a first ascent is thrown up, others will follow and all a pioneer can do is seek something even more unattainable.  

Chin has every right to shoot what he is capable of but then again, Kemple probably wouldn’t dare take Alex Honnold up to pitch 11 on Half Dome to shoot him frozen on a ledge.  Oh wait, he shot that first too.