July 13, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the arts, when one work resembles another, it’s not always clear whether the similarity is coincidence, influence, homage, or just a plain ripoff.

This book cover for Lolita appears in a BuzzFeed piece on books that are “harmless. Until a friend or loved one tells you that one of them is their favorite.”  A FB friend of mine thought the cover was brilliant.  And it is.

But I couldn’t help thinking of that other meaning of “cover” – the one in music, as in  “Madonna’s cover of Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way.’” The Lolita cover reminded me of a black-and-white photo by Ralph Gibson, a photographer known for his minimalist style as well has his nude and erotic photography.

I’m fairly sure that the Gibson photo predates the Lolita cover by decades.  I have no idea whether the book designer had ever seen the Gibson photo.  But even if he or she actually had seen it, and even if the Lolita cover was deliberate imitation, there’s no way for the designer to credit Gibson.  Works of art do not include footnoted references.

(The problem of imitation/influence/plagiarism in the arts was the topic of one of the first posts on this blog.  That one (here) was about magicians.  This one and this one were about fiction.)

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