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Monday, 01 October 2007

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Thanks for putting this into perspective here. Basically i think the same, though you give me a new idea of using flickr. What do you think about the groups, i.e. street?
I thought to upload some bw-scans to submit them to groups, but meanwhile i am not sure, since i am going to print in the darkroom, so the scans don't satisfy me any more ;-) maybe i will scan the prints and use these.

Well, yes it is the photographer, who uses the tool to create fantastic images, then posts them on Flickr! I think the site is fantastic, a melting pot for the the world to share their own little vision, yet some 'photographers' don't participate? It maybe the 'I could have done that' comment or just that a silver trumpet is drowned out by a thousand tin horns.

However, what I have found interesting about Flickr is how a side line has become such a success. I recall meeting Stewart Butterfield in a french cafe in Yaletown, Vancouver. Where he described the fun they were having at Ludicorp creating the 'never ending game', and oh you should see the fun stuff we are doing with photos – Flickr!

Now it is a home for thousands to place their shoe box of photos under a virtual bed and the rest of us to enjoy their view of the world. Historians of the future will ponder over the images and maybe gain a better view of our lives than ever before. A place for serious photography, maybe if you wish to engage in discussions about why you did not move a little to the right or crop a bit off the left. Maybe not if you just like to share your photos, either-way, Stewart created a tidal wave of expression that is good for photography as a whole. Thank you, Victor.

I too would much rather look at images, even hear about Mike's music tastes or take joy from his stirring up of Republican sensibilities (I'm Australian), than talk about cameras. But I have a hard time grappling with sites like Flickr and what it means for photography. In the past it took decades for a photographer to rise to prominence and for their iconic images to become embedded in the collective visual memory. Now, a few minutes on Flickr etc and I can come up with images (by nobodies) every bit as good. They may not translate to print well, but technology is marching on to break down even this barrier. So what does it all mean? Are each individual's efforts in creating well-crafted images now devalued? Brooks Jensen tried to tackle this in a recent editorial for his esteemed (but B&W only) journal. I'm not sure anybody has an answer to this, but the implications for photography are definitely profound.

Well thanks to you Howard, after that discussion I gave Flickr another go after several frustrating attempts to try and use it before. I'm converted. It's great.

Interesting article, Howard. My use of Flickr has been more inward-oriented: Flickr shows, to the owner of account only, the number of views for each picture posted, which gives some indication of people's reaction to the photograph. Of course this data has to be filtered in that any nude or picture of a beautiful woman usually will get the largest number of viewers.

As I'm putting a photographic book project I sometimes post pictures that I'm not sure about. In some cases I've gotten entusiastic reactions — viewers can leave comments on the pictures — to pictures that I originally thought marginal, which made me take a fresh look at the picture in question. On the other hand, the opposite is also true: pictures that I "know" are good gather few views and no comments, but this of course is the "van Gogh" syndrome!

The comments themselves are usually one-liners or the one that also makes me cringe, "Great capture!" But sometimes there are thoughtful and useful comments. Remarkably, two of my viewers in Germany independently of each other suggested that they might come to see me in Paris, because they were only 3-4 hours away by train, to see some of my prints. I've been thinking of contacting you, Howard, the next timeI go to Shanghai, but, then that must be an occupational hazard of writing for the NYT.

Some people have suggested that I post on other sites that have a more elegant interface, such as Zenfolio; but none of these have the huge viewership of Flickr, where one can get much greater exposure.

If you look at my Flickr profile page (see my url on this blog) you'll see that I don't have any "contacts": I do follow several people on Flickr, but have resisted making them contacts because deep down I feel that Flickr can easily become addictive and I have a fear of become an internet junkie.

—Mitch/Bangkok

Certainly there must be quite a bit of skillful, intriguing photographic work posted on Flickr. I've seen several such excellent examples (yours particularly, Howard).

I did open a Flickr account a very long time ago. But I quickly realized that it's not a venue for me for an assortment of reasons. Perhaps the most prominent reason is that Flickr is designed and operated principally as a social venue wrapped around pictures. It's perfect for someone who wants to "share" their 100+ vacation/party/baby snapshots and perhaps engage in online "communities" of like-minded snappers. Post a picture of your newborn baby and you're bound to get at least one "Awww...cute!" comment.

But I am just not interested in engaging in such communities. I just want a flexible online gallery platform:

- that's relatively easy for me to maintain,

- that makes it easy to send links to specific image pages/sizes,

- that enables me to determine how my images will appear,

- that gets quite a lot of good-quality traffic,

- and that allows comments but does not revolve around commentary.

So to that objective PBase has been my primary gallery venue for quite some time. It just suits me better than Flickr.

Why do so many people dislike the expression "capture"? Are you not capturing a scene, a moment, an idea, and/or a feeling, when making a photograph?

I'd rather hear "nice capture" than "nice pic" or "nice shot". The word capture for me implies that there is more to the photography in question than the mere image itself. If there's a capture, something had to be captured in the first place.

"Why do so many people dislike the expression "capture"?"

The implication is that something caught your eye, you pointed the camera in the general direction and pressed the shutter release. I'm sure there's some fine images that are made this way, but most rewarding images are "made". You find a subject, situation, lighting or whatever that interests you and then explore the possibilities. Do you think Cartier-Bresson made all his great "decisive moment" images because he was on the way to buy a baguette, saw something interesting and just happened to have his Leica with him? More likely he saw possibilities and spent hours waiting for the right conjunction of elements to get what he wanted. It's getting what you want rather than capturing what's out there that's important.

The problem with flickr myspace youtube modelmayhem lies with a few issues. Art and usage are cheap in these places. Basically the corporate owners of the sites have the viewers create content, under the guise of sharing their creativity with the world. From there it deteriorates. Many users create works with little or no concern as to their ownership or usage of their work. They're simply so happy to post it and get a pat on the back.

The problem isn't just that it's devaluing craft by letting everyone claim they're an artist, photographer, model, film maker, the problem is the utter disregard for the professions these sites tend to represent. If the state of photography is going to be such that everyone is now throwing images up to use for stock and that a major Fortune 500 corporation doesn't want to spend $20 to pay for a microstock image,what future is there for the profession of and professionals in photography?

What value is there in the concept of "photography" or "photographer" that a corporate CEO thinks that a freebie from Flickr is how ad campaigns are to be run.


Petra,
You raise an interesting point - actually a couple of interesting points.
In reply, I ask when was the medium of distribution ever largely controlled by the artist?
French Impressionists, to name just one well-known group, were dependent upon wealthy patrons and on a small number of gallery owners.
Would it be better for art photography to return to its roots, which were for all intents and purposes the same?
For me, as a photographer (and as a published author, I'd say the same thing), having my work seen and hopefully appreciated (or read) is pretty important.
I think in the age of Flickr more, not less of us, have a chance of seeing that happen.
I should add that in my case, Flickr has been instrumental in getting my work into galleries, it has also, indirectly, helped sell catalogs and prints of my work.
I doubt this would have happened in a previous, far more elitist era, and I don't for a moment begrudge the millions of other snappers out there who enjoy sharing pictures with entirely different standards and interests. I just know how to find what I can savor and learn from and how to avoid the rest. And to answer Stephen's post, I don't think devalues strong work at all.
By the way, Flickr allows you to control copyright for your work, and I don't see it becoming the answer to Fortune 500 companies getting out of spending $20.
On the word "capture," to me, it conveys a misunderstanding of the process, and in some instances perhaps, a disregard, too.
There's much more patience involved than the term suggests to me, much more knowledge of local, of people, of body language, and of the vibes I myself give off. These underrated techniques are easily as important as camera technique proper, and way more important in my view than gear.
I'm not sure there's a perfect word for the process. To "make" an image seems preferable to me. One of my favorite photographers, Ariana Lindquist, who alas is not on Flickr,
speaks of an image having been given to her whenever she manages a beautiful portrait. I like the spirit of that:
www.arianalindquist.com/
To Ken, thanks, and no problem! I'm not flacking for Flickr here, and think that whatever works for you is obviously best. Flickr has the advantage for now of the most eyes, and if you know how to use it to your purposes, I think it works pretty well. That said, I'd love to see something better come along.

Howard (Glimpse)

I have trouble with arguments against the democratization of photography because the whole history of photography is a conituous extenson to an increasingly larger number of people. Like any other profession or craft photographers must be able to provide a service that people need and value.

In a thread of comments on another article someone was arguing that photography and, hence, photogrphers were being devalued because Nikon and Canon were developing cameras with which anyone could take well-exposed, well-focused pictures. Another Luddite!

I sense a similar prejudice toward Flickr, but Howard has implicitly dealt with this in his article.

—Mitch/Bangkok

I love Flickr. I love that it is common man photography. It's completely open to be used as the fancy strikes. In effect, every user gets his own version of Flickr. How cool is that? It's casual pictures. It's project documentation. It's special interests that aren't necessarily photographic.

I use groups for everything from birds to warbirds to find photos of interest and people with like interests.

I love the most recent photo feature of the explore function. It is an immediate and free spirited "day in the life" view of the world.

Anyone who resents the open nature of Flickr would be better off forgetting it exists.

"Do you think Cartier-Bresson made all his great "decisive moment" images because he was on the way to buy a baguette, saw something interesting and just happened to have his Leica with him?"

Yup - I reckon that's exactly what happened for a good number of them. I make no claim to be a Bresson but I am never without a camera precisely because some of the pictures I've taken that I like the most arose from completely unplanned moments. Photography is one of the hardest arts in which to produce satisfaction because, unlike any other artform, we have to make art from what is actually there. Sure, we might hang around for days waiting for the perfect light, manipulate and process, mount and frame... but we, unlike painters, sculptors, composers, poets and choreographers have only the base metal of reality from which to begin.

That is why Flickr, used correctly, can be such an inspiration as it allows us to see so many variations on that basic reality, seen through so many eyes, that if we practise a little humility it can propel us to improve our own art endlessly.

By the way, another excellent way to find great images that wasn't mentioned is, of course, to check out your contacts' contacts - or indeed the contacts of any flickreenie whose images you find and love.

@Stephen Best: I disagree, at least partly, with your conjecture on HCB. I remember two accounts of him: the first is by Bruce Davidson who describes how, during the course of a walk together, HCB kept pointing-and-shooting at regular intervals, all in the flow, click click click. The other is from "L'amour tout court", the excellent film on HCB by Raphael O'Byrne: an acquaintance (I think Yves Bonnefoy) recounts how they were walking along in a village, and during that walk, HCB shot this picture: http://tinyurl.com/2l5qzp . The narrator did not remember seeing any kids playing that day, and HCB took the picture without breaking conversation.

On a more philosophical note, I think to many people, photography is valuable simply because it can be spontaneous. Sure, you can wait for hours for a wonderful shot, but the quintessence of photography is the immediacy of the casual, unprepared snapshot. A photograph is a reaction to the world, an apt metaphor would be the blink of an eye at seeing a sudden event. This is what makes the compact camera such a unique instrument, a chronicler of life as it happens, and not as it is _anticipated_ to happen. This is not to devalue the role of more deliberate work, which has its own artistic value -- but it does not demonstrate the truly unique capabilities of photography as a medium.

Btw, I hate both the words "capture" (as used above) and "image" :) -- I find them both pretentious. What's wrong with "picture" or "shot"?.

Thanks for this write-up, Howard. I'm a relatively new photographer and I signed up for Flickr pro and I've been using it mostly as a repository for a lot of pics.

I haven't really learned how to use it like browsing and contacts because I've always put it off for another time. Now I'm going through the site and learning. I'm slowly adding contacts haha. I went through some of your favorites and they're just jaw dropping! Great stuff and very inspiring!

Flickr is an awesome way to see the world through other's eyes :)

My reservation about flickr is the same as my reservation about all other online sharing sites, which is that it encourages production solely for the venue. To me, prints or books are the real end-uses of good photography, and online sharing is merely a way-station or stepping-stone to those ends. A part of the process, not an end-use in itself. Howard may shoot film with a Rolleiflex, which would be perfectly transferable to books or prints, but I get the feeling that many people are snapping pictures with inferior digicams, degrading the JPEGs in processing, and ending up with something that looks fine on flickr but is useless for anything else.

I realize that the actual uses of photography are not up to me, and anyone who is happy producing ephemera and feels fulfilled getting a few people to acknowledge looking at it is something that's up to them, and I don't really have any right to criticize. But on the other hand, my experience over the years has been that photography is hard, talent is rare, and creative accomplishment comes in bursts. I think it's too bad that someone might do the best work of their lives in a form that proves to be transitory. Posterity winnows. Ten or twenty years from now, how many people are going to be saying, damn, I wish I had a negative or a decent RAW file of that image, but all I have is a tiny JPEG that I sharpened the crap out of and put on flickr....

Mike

I think you're right as far as you go with this article. But my problem with Flickr has never been the signal to noise ratio. Of course there are good photos on the site; for me, that's what makes it so frustrating. Because it's the interface that I find completely incomprehensible. Even though I find a photographer whose work I'd like to explore, I can't figure out how to do so in an orderly fashion.

Perhaps this could be the subject of your next 'How to use Flickr' essay. Because computer guru though I may be in other contexts, Flickr remains baffling to me.

So far the discussion seems to be mostly on viewing other people's work on Flickr. How do people feel about posting their own work on Flickr?

Thank you Howard and Mike,

I guess I am just lazy and now realize it takes some work to use Flickr is a way that serves. Maybe I just make Howard and his contacts my contacts. ;-) I could do much worse for sure......

I agree about online sharing being a stepping stone or means to an end. I tend to have used DPR and the online "challenges" I do as a sounding board. I'm not interested in mass appreciating of my stuff per se, but getting the honest opinion of a few people I have gotten to know online serves to give me another perspective. While it must be nice to have 2 full pages of comments and a bunch of virtual awards (those are kinda strange) I think it most useful when you know a little bit about the person and how they approach their own work. 200 anonymous wows! and "super world's best" is a bit too much of a virtual pat on the back that may serve the person awarding them more than the photog/artist. That said, some of your contacts are fantastic and that guy Rui Palha is one hell of a good snapper.

Thanks for the helping hand, Flickr already seems less daunting.

Mike,

If you're sharpening the crap out of your jpegs before putting them on flickr, they're going to look bad. Flickr sharpens everything when it downsizes the images.

As for people criticizing flickr for democratizing photography, my response is to ask them if they've actually looked around there. Much like the rest of teh intarwebs, there's a lot of crap, but there's also a lot of good stuff. It just requires a little digging to find it.

I've used flickr for sharing travel pictures with friends, and other intranscendant stuff. But I find a specific approach very interesting: You can directly upload pictures by email. Since most cellphones can send multimedia messages as email, you can upload to flickr from the street, that is, without ever getting close to a computer.It's very intresting as an idea for raw realtime photoblogging, wherever you have a signal. The same can be done with videos at Youtube.

As for the "democratization" of art, I think it's a good thing, as much as it "devaluates" the discipline. I've been recording myself playing guitar and singing lately, and I like how it sounds. And been able to share it with friends because of the net. I'm no Roger Waters, but those who heard it said it's not too bad either. These sites are all about self expression, not expression of the best. I think there was an eighties thing about ranking stuff. I bet you all heard the "Was Genesis at its best with or without Peter Gabriel?" kind of conversation. It ends up being pretty much the same as the lens resolution obsession. If you like both of them, why not having both? These days its all about individual self expression. But that's all art is about, isn't it? I don't think only excellent voices should be heard.

Mike,
You're quite right about the long-term limited uselessness of tiny files shot on crappy cameras. I learned the lesson through this image, shot during my final weeks in Japan, after four years there. For expediency, I was carrying around a hopeless but seductive little camera and came across this scene:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/aglimpseoftheworld/88932760/in/set-72057594049047472/
The image has many defects, some of which arguably constitute charms. Un-charming without a doubt, though, is the tiny size of the file. I've carried a good camera with me pretty much wherever I go - ever since.
One might, still, oppose a philosophical objection to your sentence:
"I think it's too bad that someone might do the best work of their lives in a form that proves to be transitory."
Isn't this a basic statement of the human condition?
To Damon, if you've got a specific question about how to navigate Flickr, I'd be happy to try to help.

Howard (Glimpse)

>>>but I get the feeling that many people are snapping pictures with inferior digicams, degrading the JPEGs in processing, and ending up with something that looks fine on flickr but is useless for anything else.<<<

Mike, I think you're building up a straw man. I don't think anyone who takes photography seriously does what you suggest above. In may case I shoot in RAW, keep TIFF files, and then make a RAW file for quick viewing and for uploading to Flickr — and I always make prints because that is, after all, the best way to judge a picture. And in making an initial A4-sized print I still sometimes see things which make me rework the TIFF file, the way you would a work print before making a fine print in the darkroom.

I suspect that even people who only post family and vacation pictures don't necessarily do what you say in keeping only a degraded JPG file: in my experience most of people shooting in this way don't know anout resizing files and upload the original JPG file from the camera.

—Mitch/Bangkok

Howard W. French's article is very useful, even though I use SmugMug - www.smugmug.com - instead of Flikr, and it gives me ideas for making my experience with the site even more valuable than it's been up to now.

I have been using SmugMug as a way to edit and sequence images for book publication (in combination with blurb.com, where I produce dummies to send to publishers, as well as limited edition Artist Books).

SmugMug has allowed me to easily create a substantial web presence in a simple, well designed format (I simply went with SmugMug's default black background) that allows me as many galleries - large or small - as I want. And with ample space for text and captions, I can add whatever background information is appropriate for each gallery and for the overall site itself.

My other galleries showcase recent projects - the successful campaign for Governor of Massachusetts of Deval Patrick; or travel - a trip to Toronto in 2004 with my then-brand-new first DSLR. Another less formal gallery showcases images I've taken with my dandy new little Panasonic LX2, and is updated several times a week.

It's all about control and dissemination of one's work, whether beginner or seasoned veteran. For the first time I begin to feel as if my future as a photographer is powerfully in my own hands - or at least within the reach of my own hands.

Almost from the beginning of my photographic career I’ve been my own printer, certainly for economic reasons, but more for the degree of control I achieved by doing the work myself, and the freedom to experiment and grow that doing my own printing allows. Now my film cameras are long gone and the darkroom is used for storage. Digital cameras, a Macintosh computer, and an Epson printer have replaced them. It’s a new century, and a new age.

The rise of sites like Flikr, SmugMug, and Blurb, with their offerings of personal web sites and book printing/publishing-on-demand, allows me control over the dissemination of my work in ways that I could not even have imagined just a few years ago.

Add to all this the ability to winnow out of the crowd other photographers of like mind and commitment, as Howard French's essay describes, and I can include community-building with all the other powerful advantages of this amazing new technology. What we really have here (and I certainly include The Online Photographer) is a virtual 21st Century Photographic Community, and we are all its citizens.

My email address is on my web site (click on my name, below); I would welcome hearing from fellow 21stCenturyPhotoCommunity.com residents.

This is an interesting and, for me, helpful, thread. I have a photoblog where I have posted hundreds of pictures over the past few years. I have complete control but it's for naught, as I receive little traffic.

I tried Flickr but didn't like using it, for the same reasons as have been given by other purists here. However, I think that my photoblog traffic stats are telling me to give Flickr another try if I want to reach an audience of people who like to look at photos.

That is the main thing: to reach an audience that likes photography. Traffic from Google keyword searches, which is most of the traffic that I currently get, isn't worth much.

Thanks for a balanced look at Flickr. I've actually been on Flickr for about three years now. When I first started posting there, it was fairly small group of enthusiastic amateurs who were passionate about improving their photography.

But with the absorption of "Yahoo! Photos" and the subsequent large influx of new members in the past few years, the sheer number of boring snapshots has gone WAY up.

As you point out though, it is still possible to find plenty of good stuff via one's Contacts and select Groups.

Well said Howard. Flickr is what you make of it. I even enjoy people's holiday snaps sometimes, but maybe that's just me! There is a thrill in finding a great image amongst the dross.

I've been shooting digital SLRs for about 3 years now. I didn't have any experience prior to doing that.

I recently decided that I wanted to get "back to the basics" and shoot black and white with a russian rangefinder (zorki 4) to experience an entirely different style of shooting.

As part of this I wanted to develop my own film, but had no idea how to go about choosing which films, developers, fixers, etc. to use. So I turned to flickr and did a simple search on black and white or bw or b&w, etc. to get an idea of what film + developer combinations caught my eye.

I was able to explore pretty much every combination of film and developer because people are generally good at tagging their work. I think that I've settled on Ilford HP5+ and Rodinal as the photos that result from that combination appeal to me visually. But I wouldn't have had any way of seeing so many examples of so many combinations of film/developer without flickr being around and being easy to use.

So while flickr is a great tool for simply looking at photos, it can also be great for learning all kinds of information.

To see the HP5+/Rodinal examples go here: http://flickr.com/search/show/?q=hp5%2B+rodinal

"One might, still, oppose a philosophical objection to your sentence: 'I think it's too bad that someone might do the best work of their lives in a form that proves to be transitory.' Isn't this a basic statement of the human condition?"

Howard,
I suppose it depends on your definition of "transitory." I'm not necessarily saying your work must last 500 years, although I've seen plenty of things in museums and libraries that are that old. Where I'm coming from is that I've been in professions where I've sought out new and interesting work and tried to give it broader exposure, mainly in magazines, most recently when I helped publish Juan Buhler in Black & White Photography magazine. As a practical matter it's been frustrating at times to discover work but not be able to contact the photographer, or find great shots that don't exist in a form suitable for reproduction. Certainly a site like Trek Earth or Flickr or pbase or PhotoSIG makes it evident how rare the best work is, even the best shots among any one photographer's pages.

Imagine for the sake of argument that something changed in your own life that meant you never returned to Asia again. Your pictures of China and Asia would then take on a somewhat different meaning in the history of your life--not something alive and changing and easily modified, but a set of pictures that would be delimited to what you were able to accomplish during a specific time of your life. And let's say that work became better known in time, and eventually a publisher approached you about doing a book of your work. What if half of your China pictures were small files like "Zombies of Shibuya"? Fine for Flickr but not adequate for book repro. It would be a shame, is all.

I'm not saying the freedom and flexibility of Flickr and small web JPEGs aren't valuable, and of course most pictures by most people will never need to be anything more. What I'm saying is that I hope other people, like you, have thought about the form in which they may need their photographs to be in, in case they happen to take their masterpiece picture and will want to do other things with it.

I used to hate shooting color film because I was always afraid I'd see a great black-and-white picture while I had the color film in my camera.

I was once walking to a Metro stop with my friend Kim Kirkpatrick, who is a great photographer, after one of his classes at the Smithsonian. He was walking along apparently glumly, looking at the ground. I chided him about it, and he said, "I'm afraid I'll see a picture. This is just the kind of light that I like." He didn't have his camera and he didn't even want to know what he was missing. That's taking it one step further still!

Mike

I've been using Flickr for 28 months. The signal-to-noise ratio on Flickr is low, and it decreases every day. On the other hand, Flickr Groups and Contacts are efficient noise filters. Like any social network, it takes a while to dial in these filters to make Flickr work for you. But one of Flickr's strengths is its extremely diverse content can be filtered to suit any purpose.

The thing I object to mostly about Flickr is the ugly page layout.Somebody needs to get a redesign going.We all have our good and bad work and some of the photographers post more than enough repeats[five different versions of the same I call it].Also I've noticed in the comments here a great emphasis on making prints.I'm I the only who doesn't give a dam about prints.It seems to me that more people are getting their "photofix" from the internet than prints.Who looks at photo books anymore my kids sure don't.They love sites like Flickr.

"Who looks at photo books anymore my kids sure don't. They love sites like Flickr."

I look at photo books every day. I just bought Slide Show "the color photographs of Helen Levitt" just yesterday.

I very much enjoy the internet, but if I had to only have one or the other, I'd take a print or book without question.

Now about that page layout. I might agree with you but it's kind of like decorating your house. Someone will always hate it....

Actually, the 'endless photos of cats' is why I primarily use Flickr! Felix Nadar, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Man Ray, Robert Capa, Willy Ronis, Edward Steichen all photographed cats - and if cats were good enough for them...

My constantly updated album "20 most interesting" shots are all of cats. Except one - which is of a snail.

http://tinyurl.com/3bqkdo

Well I asked my kids for a bit of their reasoning about liking Flickr and basically this is what I got.They like it because there is so much to look at and it changes all the time.Sounds good to me. It would be nice if Flickr offered users more page customization and even though we have a Flickr account we prefer to put more of our work on the more customizable Blogger. I hate the decoration of my house so I must be a someone. Thanks charlie d.

i've been using photosites for years..i don't use flickr because i hate the name. Sounds like a party game. i do enjoy altphotos.com. Very Euro. i also like photoseen.com as a nice place to arrange albums. i have used and abandoned sites with 'friends' because it ends up being a mutual admiration society that gets very stifling..the same people telling you they love your work all the time. Very boring, predictable and stifling. I also agree with Mike. What you see online does not necessarily have anything to do with the print-worthiness of a photograph. At the end of the day, it's what we hold in our hand that counts. A photograph that measures 700 pixels on the long side tells you nothing about quality. It just tells you how photogenic the subject was. That's half the battle. The rest is a test of the photographer's mettle. And that is what separates the flickr shooter from the serious.

1: Flickr is a clear example of the incredible power of the internet to bring people together, share ideas and concepts, and bring forward outstanding photography that might not otherwise find an audience.

2: Flicker is a clear example of the incredible power of the internet to puke forth yards of the mediocre, dilute the concept and tradition of photography, and feed the ignorant bliss of dilletants.

You can pick either, and be completely right.

I am as invested in great prints as can be, but I think what the popularity of Flickr and other community-based photo sites tells is that the world is changing, and along with it, the way people appreciate photography.
Mike, I completely understand your friend, Kim Kirkpatrick's sentiments. The only time I see more interesting things, besides when I'm changing film or lenses (I don't like zooms), are those rare moments when I don't have a camera at all.
Finally, I was at the Shanghai Museum today for a great exhibit of classical Spanish painting on loan from the Prado. I came across an absolutely gorgeous, smallish tableau by Tiepolo, whose work I didn't previously know. Reading the curator's notes, I learned that this image, the Triumph of Venus, was one of four tableaux by the artist painted for Russian royalty. The other three works disappeared long, long ago, without a trace. So much for permanence.
By the way, another painting, Fiesta Campestre, by David Teniers, struck me as a master class for photographers. Have a look. I'm sure it can be found online -- a poor substitute, admittedly, for the original "print."

I stipulate that my site and its photography will never get hits and exposure that is possible on Flickr, but . ….

Maybe one of the other keys here is that Flickr (and sites like it) provides an avenue for photographers who do not have the technical means to run their own site, or the money to have someone do it for them?

I drank the flickr Kool-Aid for about six months. I started to feel that my time would be better spent making prints than thinking up tags for a stream of photos that no one would ever see.

Like New York City, flickr is probably the place to be for a bold and brash whipper-snapper. It's big, noisy, hopelessly congested, and exciting. And you just might make something happen there.

I'd just rather be in the country.

I like the variety on Flickr. Lots of shots non-artists think are worth sharing, and often I find reasons to enjoy them.

Ninety percent of everything is crap, somebody said, but the 5-10 % make the searching worth it.

I use capture in the sense of an unusual unstaged scene that was captured by the lucky/prepared/aware photographer, such as a nature photographer happening upon a rare behavior.

I think lots of shooters on Flickr have their own websites. Most of us come to learn quickly that for all but a few, personal websites are not where the eyeballs are.
I started this conversation speaking about Flickr as a school for the eyes, and that's where I'll end my own input.
One thing that looking at images has done is to teach me how to discriminate between interesting and not so interest by a mere glance at a screen chock-a-block with thumbnails. What this is, among other things, is a lesson in composition, which I've found transfers very nicely to my own picture taking. You can tell a strong composition without even examining the content of a photo in any detail. That's valuable knowledge.
I've also come to be able to recognize quite a few photographers' work simply by seeing the thumbnails. The photos by people whose work I know and appreciate most fairly leap out at me from a crowd of thumbnails. This has taught me a lot about style and artistic personality.

My main problem with Flickr is not the heaps of trash that people upload, but the lack of flexibility in customizing your own experience. It is very difficult to specify the way you look at photos to properly appreciate them. The harsh white background is rarely the best way to do so. I usually prefer to go straight to the "large" size, yet it takes two clicks to do so. Several years ago I settled on DeviantArt as the best compromise between user experience (where SmugMug wins hands down) and "social networking" (where Flickr is one of the better ones). I use DA the same way you use Flickr - over time I build up "friends" whose work I want and whose favorites are my main source of new material.

An interesting and extensive post. I notice you say you like to talk about photographs. Me too, and this is one of the problems I have with Flickr and similar sites. Just go and look at the comments for some of the (often excellent) images - all I see is a stream of "awards" or one liners such as "awesome shot". This all seems to me to encourage a 5 second bubblegum approach to appreciating photographs, many of which deserve better.

I am glad you wrote this. This is exactly how I feel about flickr. Flickr might not be a perfect place, like the rest of world we are living. It has its positive and negative side. I think for me it is a perfect place to showcase my work and set the goal for myself to be out on the street daily.

I find the motivation and passion because of the flickr. That is how I take it. So I can focus on shooting and learn from other great artists.

I think we all know writer doesn't need to have a fancy pen to be a great writer, photographer does not necessary to have a great camera to be a shooter, flickr is not perfect place for everyone. The most important thing is how we use the tool and how we use flickr to grow our art and vision.

there is some nice photography put there on flickr... but read the comments under the pictures.... HUARRRR the top of the top of superficiality..........

Nice way to dissect flickr, however, if you have only four photos on flickr's Explore, then you will not be revered on flickr. hahahaha.

In terms of the noise, and yes it is high for those that starts, say, with the Explore page, there is information in noise. In my particular case, I had not read much about the history of photography, nor paid much attention to others' approach to photography. I just did the "thing" of buying a camera and walk around Paris (typical, no?). However, my biggest value from flickr is to learn what-not-to-do. This is not about over-sharpening, bad HDR, etc. This learning is about subject+composition that seems to be what many people do, as well as popular trends (e.g., the recent explosion of through-the-viewfinder photographs).

One feature that would be most useful from flickr, once a good number of contacts has been gathered, is to "explore" one's contacts favorites. That would be a great browser.

Well said. I stumbled upon your technique myself - surfing the favs of other photographers I think have talent - and it is quite rewarding. Thanks.

Flickr is like an ocean of fish eating each other up. Images that are posted to lots of groups and which receive lots of comments often land on the Explore pages. The concept, implementation or some other important aspect of these "successful" Explore images are then ruthlessly plagarized by dozens (sometimes hundreds) of beginning and amateur snappers. Then the cycle repeats itself, and in each new iteration you end up with hundreds more conceptually identical images.

Then you read some comment for a nth-degree plagarized photo which goes along the lines of "you are so talented", "love your creative vision", "you have such a great eye".

WTF !!!

If you are serious about your photography and have a special way of seeing your world then I would strongly suggest you resist the temptation to use that site as a showcase for your work. Your ideas, angles, lighting, posing, locations and/or other unique visual aspects of your photos will be copied days, weeks or months later, usually with no inspirational credits to you at all.

I would have to agree rob, I'm starting to see that alot to be honest. People are just taking other photographers photos and making it their own all in the name of comments and views!!! anyway didn't write to mention the above just thought is was an interesting thought from another person that i happen to agree with. I was writing to say I love the looking at favs of your friends and fav photographers. Never saw this one..

The way I try and filter was using the friends and family and only have around 50 odd that I really enjoy and find interesting/inspiring. Have the odd photographer that shoot some interesting stuff but they may just be put into my contacts list. might wander through there every now and then but not to often.

great post and comment by the way!

Rob, I think you have a good point about plagarism on flickr and how the explore function essentially caters to a big happy family of people fretting over each others 'natural light child shot' - awwww, so special. On the other hand, isn't art all about getting inspiration from other sources, ideally the real world out there, but it's a fine line between looking at somebody elses work and getting an idea for one's own piece and flat out stealing someone's idea. I guess I see flickr as a good, democratic way to see a lot of photography, good and bad. Would I post my best shots, no, never, but there is something wonderful about seeing a 20 year photo vet's work and then seeing a new photographer's one great shot. I love the fact that is does not take a decade, at the whim of a rich sponsor, to allow the world to see our work. That's what flickr is great for.

5 pages of how to flickr on google and I get this article. A true piece of gold. Thanks!

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