The photo above was taken by Sarah Scurr on November 6, 2006, while Scurr was aboard a cruise ship near Chile's Northern Patagonian Ice Field. The photo below was taken by Marisol Ortiz Elfeldt on the same day, from the same ship, and looks nearly identical to Scurr's—a fact that recently led to a bizarre public row over accusations of plagiarism.
The trouble started back in 2009, when amateur photographer Scurr submitted her image of the Chilean iceberg to a photography competition hosted by the Telegraph's travel section. Her photo was selected as one of the best of the week and added to the paper's website, where it sat mostly unremarked-upon for six years.
Then, last month, Elfeldt caught wind of Scurr's snap and posted on Telegraph Travel's Facebook page to accuse her of stealing the photo, photoshopping it, and entering it into the contest as her own. "I want to make clear that this is MINE and I find very poor (sic) of this person to deceive people by saying it's hers," she wrote. "I want this picture removed or with the right credits: my name."
The Telegraph, determined to uncover any foul play, asked both photographers to supply the EXIF data for their image—which showed that they had indeed been taken on the same day, at the same location, but with different cameras. "A closer look also revealed a very slight difference in perspective - consistent with a moving boat," writes the Telegraph's Oliver Smith. "Which would lead to the remarkable conclusion that the two women were standing beside one another when they took the same photo just seconds apart."
You might be tempted to interpret the episode as a dire portend for original photography in the age of the iPhone, as Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones did in his hackneyed take. Please don't. It's true: many more people have access to cameras than did even just a decade ago, and that's occasionally going to lead to dustups like these. But if there's a lesson to be learned here, it's not that creativity is dead, or that whippersnapper Instagrammers have an inflated sense of their own artistic worth.
It's just that old-fashioned artistic plagiarism—an idea that's been on increasingly shaky ground for a century or more—is only becoming more difficult to pin down now that even your grandma is a 24-hour content-creating machine.
Scurr, who handled the allegations against her with aplomb, put it nicely:
It's a bizarre coincidence and I'm suprised it doesn't happen more often. You've got hundreds of people staring at landmarks or landscapes, all taking the same picture on their smartphone or camera. Hopefully, should anyone else find themselves in the same position, they will think twice before making public accusations.