Sparking a Perplexing Fight Over Artistic Plagiarism

Two nearly identical photographs are at the heart of a debate about possible plagiarism in an entry to the Sony World Photography Awards. The players are Romanian artist Alex Andriesi, who lives in Montpellier, France, and Portugal-based photographer Anka Zhuravleva. Both photographers’ images show colorful, hovering spheres in a soft-lit hallway, lit by windows at left, and a girl or a woman in a green dress, floating in the air and grasping one of the spheres, her face toward the camera, eyes closed. By any measure, the images are strikingly similar.

After the shortlist for the “Open” section of the 10th edition of the prize was announced in February, Zhuravleva took to Facebook with a March 19 post accusing Andriesi of plagiarism. Followers lined up to support her complaint, though some say she has no choice but to shrug it off.

The prize itself includes a trip to London and a total prize fund of $30,000, along with photo equipment for the winners.

The World Photography Organisation weighed in on Zhuravleva’s post with a comment a few days later, saying that it takes any such accusations seriously and always conducts an investigation.

Here’s where things get really intriguing: As part of that investigation, Andriesi showed the World Photography Organization and the publication PetaPixel, which earlier reported this story, documents and a video that supports his claim of innocence. But that evidence remains secret; Andriesi reportedly won’t show it to the public. In addition to the possibility that the video could provoke a nasty debate, he tells PetaPixel, “I’m also afraid that Anka’s tight-knit community may view the video as retaliation.”

“In this instance Alex Andriesi has provided documents that support his statement that he has not plagiarised the work of any other artist and his influence was taken from elsewhere,” says the WPO in its Facebook comment, without specifying the actual inspiration.

For Zhuravleva, that’s not much of a defense. Speaking to PetaPixel, she characterized their defense this way: “‘No, he didn’t copy you, he copied someone else. So do not worry.’”

Both photographers traffic in soft-focus photos of beautiful people in romantic settings. Since picking up a camera in 2006, Zhuravleva has shot numerous book covers and has shown her work at venues throughout Europe and in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Andriesi doesn’t seem to have a website that would provide biographical information.