This week's column by Ctein
After my earlier column, "We Need Our Audiences," Kathy Li (a.k.a. inkista) and I continued to discuss online venues and audiences. When I wrote that column, I got things a little wrong. I said that Kathy didn't have a website or online gallery for presenting her work, and that was technically correct. But she does post to Flickr, and I knew that at the time. Mentally I discounted it and so it didn't make it into the text. I should have been clearer from the get-go.
Now, why did I discount Flickr? Understand, I have nothing against Flickr. I don't use it myself, but I don't have any quibble or quarrel with people who do and I take a pretty firm stand against the self-appointed Gatekeepers of True Photography who say that folks who make heavy use of Flickr are somehow doing it wrong. How dare someone set themselves up as the arbiter of how other folks should enjoy their photographic activities! Smite them, I say.
So, no, it's not a disrespect for Flickr. But I don't respond to it as a serious venue for the presentation of work. As many a wise soul has explained to newbie photographers trying to get their work seen, presentation counts. It's like going for a job interview; you dress (up or down) to play the part of the job you're trying to get. If you want your work to be taken seriously by some high-falutin' gallery owner, you don't bring in a bunch of mismatched, dogeared prints in an old paper box, drop it on their desk and say "Here, have a look." A nice portfolio box or binder holding prints that are presented uniformly and individually gets you a lot more serious attention.
No, it doesn't guarantee that they'll like your work, but it gets you past the hurdle of unconscious dismissal.
A photo from Dave Reichert's clean, simple, and functional website
To me, Flickr is just what it says it is, a social sharing site for photographs. It's a lot like when you get together with friends who, in the Good Old Days, might say, "Hey, I just got back from vacation, you wanna see my snaps?" And they'd haul out a bunch of envelopes they got back from the photofinisher (hopefully with the real dogs culled out), and you'd flip through them casually. Maybe something would jump out at you as especially impressive, maybe not, but it wasn't a situation designed nor intended to invite deep scrutiny.
Yes, some folks can look at photographs that way and do the deep investment/scrutiny thing almost instinctively and with astonishing rapidity. They are in an acute minority. Not close to the norm.
I repeat, this kind of casual social viewing is a fine thing, in and of itself. It's not a good way, though, to get your work taken seriously by most people. In these days of the Internet, that's where a dedicated website or gallery site comes in.
It doesn't have to be a fabulous site, it just has to be serviceable. Some people are real fashionistas when it comes to designing such a site, and more power to them. They are rare and exceptional, like the folks who could design perfect portfolio cases and presentations to make gallery owners and curators sit up and pay attention to their work. That's a whole high art in itself. Very few people have those skills and, truthfully, very few in the audience have the sensibilities to respond to it.
Mostly it's about having the web equivalent of a nice, competent looking portfolio case or binder. Something that doesn't get in the way of looking at the photographs too much and doesn't visually draw attention away from them. It's just a vehicle that lets the viewer examine the photographs in a contemplative, undistracted fashion and so it encourages them to look at what they're seeing.
That's what I was getting at when I said that Kathy lacked a proper web presence and needed more confidence in how good her work was. My feeling is that if you want people to see how good you really are, you need a better venue than the virtual equivalent of photofinishing envelopes. Of course, if you're entirely happy with those envelopes, then carry on! But you might be selling yourself short.
©2013 by Ctein, all rights reserved
Weekly columnist Ctein presents himself on TOP on Wednesdays.
Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Stan B.: "You're right all around. Was thinking of putting together a greatest hits set on Flickr—but setting it up on an 'official' website is what I really need to do. When are you going to have a post where doing the right thing requires less work rather than more?"
Josef (partial comment): "I set out to post 3–5 good photographs on Flickr every week, and that has been crucial in getting me out more to exercise my creativity on a regular basis. My website doesn't get near the traffic that my Flickr page does."
Alan Sailer: "A well written post that I completely agree with. I have most of my work on Flickr and it has worked out fine. I have no desire to make my living as a photographer so the amount of attention I presently get is good enough.
"One very negative aspect of having your portfolio on Flickr is that the site can be radically changed without your consent. The new Flickr is much worse than the old Flickr and I can't do anything about that.
"One aspect of many professional photography gallery sites are very elaborate graphic interfaces that take a long time to load. They can be very beautiful, but often I just want a quick glance at a few pictures to see if the photographers style is to my liking...."
Richard Skoonberg (partial comment): "The amount of incredible art photography on Flickr is astounding. One needs to just starts looking. There are so many accomplished artists on Flickr and in all areas of photography: street, portraiture, landscape, figure, abstract/minimalism, studio, and event photography."