I sniffed around the edges of Flickr for several years. At first I didn’t really get how it operated, then I didn’t feel I had a need for it, and I found it overly large (and that was several years ago). Maybe it was a small thing like the design as well. There are so many sites, and for some reason Flickr just didn’t appeal to me.
Then a friend recently commented to me that they had put a lot of their pictures up and was getting good feedback. This intrigued me a little, as community and interaction are always two things I chase on the net. Information I look for when I need it – it’s there already in absolutely overwhelming amounts. But a good community of people interested in photography on a deep level is somewhat harder to find.
So I tried it out. By that I mean I posted a bunch of my images to see how the site functioned, and I looked around a lot at the various groups and how people commented on images. My investigations lasted only a half dozen visits or so before I started to get a bad taste in my mouth. I started to notice the preponderance of “Awards” given to photographs. You know – like “Your photo is so freaking cool, you can join our exclusive group for Too Cool photographers”. My overwhelming impression was that it was a great big back patting fest. So I just stopped visiting the site. (On the internet you simply vote with your mouse. My pictures are still there, alone, unvisited and uncommented. I suppose I should go delete them…)
Don’t get me wrong. I like good feedback on my photographs. I am not immune to praise at all. I have a photoblog, and I greatly welcome all and sundry positive comments. But I had no desire to join this back slapping party. It all seemed so inanely superficial, and maybe worse, it seemed to cheapen the photographs themselves.
After reading Richard Tugwell’s blog I think I am realising why. I want a deeper critique of images. I want people to go past the initial 5 second appraisal and look at what the photographer is trying to say, and to look at how well they said it. The overwhelming amount of images on Flickr, and the overwhelming amount of images added each day, doesn’t promote that sort of photographic critique. Instead it promotes “flick’ing” through them, giving them the five second thumbs up or down. It promotes superficial praise and ego stroking. Now I know some people need that a lot. It’s very nice. In fact it’s fabulous to know that other people think you are a really good photographer. But nonetheless it’s not the sort of site I want to spend my time on. I want to learn. I like useful positive critique, from people who have clearly taken the time to absorb, ponder and analyse the meanings hidden in my images. In this bustling world, it’s probably asking too much, but I want them to care, not just summarily dismiss the image as crap, or praise it as a masterpiece (or lump it somewhere in the middle, which is a good tactic I suppose, because that’s where most naturally fall).
There are a lot of fantastic images on Flickr. My argument has nothing to do with the quality of the images. There are also loads of really bad ones. My argument is about the framework a website sets up in which we appreciate photography. In some ways it’s not really Flickr’s fault. They set up a great service, and that’s the way it has developed. Other sites have gone in different directions, like one I recently discovered called onexposure.net, which goes the other way and has moderated content (more on this in a later post). And there are a million other photography forums on the Internet, some of them clearly better than others.
I wonder if what I’m looking for exists at all. Or is it a change in the way people view photography I am really after? I want to explore this idea further, and I will also follow Richard’s lead, who is also discussing closely related topics on his blog. Let’s see where it goes.