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When artists and photographers 'borrow'

February 27, 2010 |  8:00 am

Paris1

It seems like something out of a Charlie Kaufman film.

Last month, the New York-based photographer Sze Tsung Leong was on location in La Paz, Bolivia, when he received a phone message from his New York gallerist, Yossi Milo. It had come to Milo’s attention that a Canadian photographer was exhibiting a series of works in Vancouver that bore a striking similarity to an ongoing series by Leong. An image of the Canale della Guidecca Giudecca, in Venice? The Canadian photographer had it, and from the same perspective as Leong’s. A cracking ice floe in Iceland? An Egyptian pyramid? A Japanese shrine? He had those too, all cropped and composed in similar fashion.

Paris2 Using images sent to him by a source in Vancouver, Milo identified seven photographs that he believed to be, if not “exactly the same,” at least “very similar” to Leong’s, as well as several images that bore direct resemblance to works by the German photograhers Elger Esser and Andreas Gursky.

But it was Leong, a rising art world star whose work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the International Center of Photography, who appeared to be the principal source for the Canadian photographer, David Burdeny. The installation style of Burdeny’s “Sacred and Secular” series at Vancouver’s Jennifer Kostuik Gallery seemed to be borrowed from the rather idiosyncratic presentation of Leong’s “Horizons” series at Milo’s New York gallery.

A little investigation on the Internet revealed to Milo that Burdeny, 41, had studied architecture before turning to photography, as had the 39-year-old Leong. It all brought up the question: Did Leong have a doppelgänger stalking him around the globe, reproducing his images?

To read the full story of this interesting case in the Arts & Books section, click here.

-- Mark Lamster

Photos: At top, "Seine I" by Sze Tsung Leong; below, "River Seine II, Paris," by David Burdeny.

Credits: Yossi Milo Gallery, New York (top); Kostuik Gallery, Vancouver, Canada (below)

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