The answer? It depends.
This time, I'm not referring to visual plagiarism but to the imitation of style and copying of unimaginative itineraries in the travel photography tours/workshops industry.
Many travel photographers recently awoke to the fact that tours and workshops can add a little something to their bottom line (actually, big and small name photojournalists are doing it as well), and their offerings are all over the internet. Their target market is made up of working and non-working photographers, who seek to build an inventory of images, either to show friends and neighbors, enter and hopefully win competitions, or to sell as stock and to publications.
All this sounds lovely but regrettably, the disease currently afflicting photojournalism seems to have spread into travel photography as well. It's rather disconcerting to see a lack of imagination in many travel photography tours, a frequent "borrowing" of regular tourist itineraries, and the liberal sprinkling of the sentence "photo-shoot" and "wake up at dawn" and similar verbiage in the marketing blurbs, as if that's enough to give legitimacy to the notion that these trips are really tailored for photo enthusiasts.
As regular readers of this blog know, I've swatted off a number of attempts by established travel photographers to either flagrantly filch my itineraries (inclusive of hotel names) or to get a copy of my mailing list for my photo~expeditions, or to join that mailing list to get advance notice of my itineraries. Oh, yes...corporate espionage is alive and well in the travel photography workshop business, but that's par for the course.
Have I consciously imitated any other travel photographers as far as itineraries are concerned? Sure, I may have been inspired by some, but I always avoided cookie-cutter itineraries (excepting Bhutan, where these are based on annual festivals), and I consistently base my itineraries on what and where I want to photograph...not on what and where others want to photograph. And the formula works...with my expeditions often with long waiting lists.
Speaking of inspiration: 24 months ago, I introduced multimedia storytelling tutoring using Soundslides on my photo-expeditions, so I'm chuffed to see others have just started to offer it as well. Soundslides...not SlideShowPro, Final Cut Express or other software choices.
Dwindling viable opportunities, reduced prices for images, tougher competition and increased costs are the reasons many travel photographers cut corners, and look for guidance, inspiration and successful examples to emulate; and as a result, some cross the invisible line and become unimaginative imitators.
So back to my question. Is imitation flattery or buggery? It depends on how the one being imitated actually views it, and what is being copied. Some will consider it a rip-off...others -as I do- consider it the sincerest form of flattery.
You see, it's not buggery unless one is willing to be buggered...but let's also remember, taking without giving back is bad karma.