Exclusivity of Ideas

Further on whether or not ideas are 'mine'. I listened to Radiolab in December, in which Kevin Kelly described how multiple patents for the telephone were claimed in a short span of time. Same for light bulbs.

The gist of the Radiolab discussion is that, with technology, at least, once the conditions become right for the invention of something, many people will try to invent it at the same time. For example, to invent the light bulb, a bunch of things had to have been discovered already: electricity, partial vacuum, filaments.

So I'm thinking that this is probably true culturally, as well. Think zeitgeist. And photographically, think Cuba, porn stars, or the Bonneville Salt Flats.

For a long while I thought that all these similar photo projects showing up around the same time was just a bunch of people glomming on to one guy's good idea, but the Radiolab discussion made me think otherwise. Sometimes, the photographs show up pretty close together in time, and the projects are fairly long-term, which suggests that everybody got started around the same time. And of course, the coincidental manifestations of similar ideas often look very different.

These three images came out within a couple months of each other. I hadn't seen either of the others, and I'm sure they hadn't seen mine.

Rob Prideaux

Brad Wenner

So these ideas appear in the window...this window which I think of as mine, but it's a portal, and what's beyond the windowframe isn't mine any more than you own the atmosphere outside your house. That atmosphere, I think, is common, shared amongst us all.

And that's where ideas live. So who owns ideas? No one.

Ideas own themselves. When I am working at my best, I am working in service to the idea. Are the props good enough for this idea? Does the lighting support the idea? Is this the right composition for this idea? Am I working at the right pace, am I aligned with the idea, am I listening well?

Which is where any kind of "ownership" comes in. I own my response to the idea, and that's pretty much it, but it's not small.