Sam Haskins Month Day 1: When art imitates art


“Kate in Jail”: one of the photographs that launched a thousand rip-offs.

Sam Haskins’ legendary collection Cowboy Kate is beautiful, wild, incredible art. I believe you can see its influence in nearly every major photographer working in erotica and artistic nudes today, and the influence spills over in to other art forms (Sin City, anyone? — I will prove that point another day) as well.

It is all well and good when art imitates life. But what happens when art imitates art? And uncredited to boot? All hell breaks loose is what!

I have already pointed out the low-class ripping off of Haskins done by Pompeo Posar on the cover of this 1965 November issue of Playboy, but, not having a hard copy of the magazine in front of me, I admit that I do not 100% know for certain that there is not some tiny line of text buried in the masthead citing Haskins as the source of the idea, so I am only partially incensed on that one: jury’s out, you know?


Photographed by Pompeo Posar: model’s name is Beth Hyatt

Much more recently, some shit the fan when, on his very entertaining blog, Sam Haskins took photographer Tom Munro and the UK edition of Elle magazine to task for what is inarguably very blatant and unmistakable composition thievery, with an unforgivable lack of credit.

Of course there are those who say that imitation is the highest form of flattery but that’s garbage, when it looks like theft, tastes like theft and smells like theft – then guess what?

The May 2008 cover shoot for British Elle featured Madonna as Cowboy Kate. This wasn’t a case of ‘influence’ – dipping into my books for a spark of inspiration or developing an idea or a variation on a theme – this was plain stealing.


One of the highly disputed and disrespectable Munro Madonna images in question.

One monitor in the studio was plastered with images from my books including the iconic shot of Kate with her black hat over one eye and next to it another monitor with the copies – literally an identical copy of Kate, live digital images of Madonna from Tom Munro’s camera. This is as brazen an example of photographic plagiarism – straight forward stealing – as you will ever see.


left: Kate from Haskins’ book; right: Madonna in Munro’s shoot

… Arianne Phillips holds forth on “the concept” of the shoot without mentioning Sam Haskins or Cowboy Kate at all. The commissioning magazine Elle also stays silent in print and online. The photographer Tom Munro who, (at the time of writing ) has a Cowboy Kate rip-off image on his website cannot find the honesty to give credit. Many of his photographs are very ‘reminiscent’ of my work as well as that of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Sarah Moon and on occasion, David Hamilton.

Munro, you are straight called out! What is that like??

I wish I could say those are the only cases, but Sam Haskins is such a superfly amazing guy that he “inspires” slews of eager young b&w photographers. For example, Haskins aficionados on the tumblr have observed this well-liked picture floating about which is a clearly Kate-derived piece:


Via bebe le strange.

In every case now when that photo gets reblogged on tumblr, the text “This is such a rip-off of Cowboy Kate by Sam Haskins,” accompanies it. Yes. Good on them for spotting an imitator and making sure the original source got proper credit. It’s well and good to appreciate a new, well-shot photo, but when the roots are so clear-cut, it’s important to cite that source. Sam himself said so; come on!

Now here is how you do such a thing right: the company Valdés Wright represents fashion photographers. On their website they have a lovely portfolio shot by Tom Sorensen and produced by AVK, which is specifically titled, “Cowboy Kate 2008,” and described as, “Inspired by Sam Haskins’ famous 1964 book, Cowboy Kate & Other Stories, a beautiful outlaw eludes the sheriff while awaiting her lover.” Below is an example from the shoot, which is not very NSFW, so feel free to click through safely for once.


By Tom Sorensen

That’s how you borrow an idea while still gracefully paying homage. None of this sneaky stuff. Amateur hour with that Munro chicanery, I swar to gar. Can you believe that shit? I love that Haskins ripped him a new one.

This has been Day 1 of Sam Haskins Month!

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3 Responses to “Sam Haskins Month Day 1: When art imitates art”

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