Last week my C:\ drive died so had to replace it. I’ve got a new c:\ with Windows 8, which means I need to adjust to a new operating system. And reinstall all the programs, applications, devices I use. And try to recover my iTunes library. ITunes has also changed lately so I have to relearn how to install everything again. Firefox has been reinstalled and I lost all my marklets, booklets, shortcuts, you name it.
And now Flickr has also changed. Yeah, my photos look better because I’ve uploaded in most cases high resolution versions, but everything is so crowded, or at it least it looks that way to me. I feel like I have to learn everything again, feeling so old suddenly, things changing so fast. It’s been almost 8 years I’ve been on Flickr, I’ve been through many changes since I’ve started. Before it was acquired by Yahoo. And now Tumblr has also been acquired by Yahoo. I loved posting quotes on Tumblr. Will that change too? Am I being left behind by the social media train? One that is biggr, fastr, bettr and ultimately irrelevant?
I’ve never been good at baking or knitting. My hobbies consist of butchering images and posting them on Flickr. And posting quotes on tumblr of articles I found via Twitter. That was so 2010…
But as the Red Queen said “…it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”
Some time ago I opened an account on Instagram, I didn’t post a lot there mainly because I the camera on my iPod wasn’t that good and very few connections (followers and people or corporate accounts I would like to follow). Lately I got an iPhone with a better camera, which meant that I had the means and increased opportunities to post photos on the go.
As Instagram gather traction and my connections grew, so the interactions and incentive for me to post grew. One of the features I really liked of Instagram was the possibility to post images directly to Twitter and Flickr, as the main connections I wanted to “share” my content were in those networks.
But then Instagram was acquired by Facebook, which meant that Facebook “friction-less” sharing model will apply to it, but more important, that Instagram would need to justify its acquisition value.
After the infamous change of Terms of service, that was somehow modified subsequently, it was clear that Instagram intends to use its users and their content for commercial purposes. This issue deserves to be discussed separately but for me it meant that now I’d have to watermark images I’d like to upload to Instagram. Seeing this need to clearly identify the copyright of image authors, an app was developed. I use Marksta for this.
Then come the problem of the square Instagram format, which might have been appealing at the beginning of the Polaroid nostalgia trend but can only go to far. And though at the beginning of photography most images were shoot in cameras using square format (film or plates), once developed photos were usually cropped in more aesthetic landscape or portrait formats. Instagram forced you to go the other way around, first you shoot your photo most of the time you compose your image with a device that has a screen/viewer with a landscape format that can be shifted to portrait. Then, if you want to upload to Instagram, you have to crop your image into square format which distorts the composition you were trying to achieve. Granted most of the images uploaded to Instagram don’t have that much of a deliberate composition, but still.
But when there’s a need, there’s an app. There’s an app called NoCrop that will add enough white space around your photo, whatever the ratio, to make it square. So there, you only have to use three apps so far – The photo one to take, do a very basic retouching of your photo and crop it according to the composition you want to enhance. Then you add some white space to make it square. then you add your watermark, then you open it on Instagram, where you might decide to add a filter for good form. And then you can finally publish the damn photo! Talk about convenience!
I wouldn’t mind the cumbersome process as long as it was about getting the images I wanted, in the format I wanted, posted to and shared with the networks I wanted. Until Instagram decided to tell all my Facebook friends were to find me and to start following me which really annoys me because if I have wanted to “share” any images posted on Instagram with my Facebook contacts, I would have posted them to Facebook directly.
At the end of the day is a matter of cost/benefit. People might argue that the benefit derived from sharing images on Instagram comes at no cost for the user, when as matter of fact, I’m providing Instagram, and Facebook, with content and connections. Ultimately Instagram and Facebook will have the right to push advertising to me (the user) and my “friends” (connections) using my information to companies to target advertising and even using my photos to sell to other content providers or to be used for advertising. And as for benefit, the only benefit I would personally gather would be the odd like here and there.
I prefer to save me the trouble and continue posting my images on Flickr. I pay them a fee, I upload what I want in the format I want, I share it with whoever I want and from time to time I get the odd fave. Everybody wins, isn’t it?
It’s been more than 7 years that I’ve been on Flickr. Over these 7+ years I have posted 4,632 items (photos, drawings and the odd video) and had 10,806 views of them. So roughly two views per item on average.
I’ve been on Instagram for over a year and posted 155 photos. I don’t have statistics for the views on my Instagram items but I think my ratios must be about the same or even less encouraging. I’ve been posting more lately on Instagram, but feeding back into my Flickr stream as Instagram gives you the possibility to post directly to other media.
Views on my images on Flickr were close to non-existent as I’ve chosen to hide them from public searches, don’t use tags and don’t post images to groups frequently. So if you want to increase the views on your Flickr items, do exactly the opposite. I have, however, increased the views of my photos by posting links to Twitter. I’m very grateful to the positive feedback I get from followers on Twitter about images on Flickr.
It’s a bit frustrating that only other Flickr members are able to “fave” a photo. And the same goes for images on Instagram. So you’re kind of forced to publish material on several platforms to reach the users of any of them – Flickr, 500px, +G, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, your blog, and whichever newest thing comes next week. Though some of these allow you to post the same material in several platforms, there’s no way to have a single location to store your material and different venues to access. Each service would keep a copy of your material in their servers, with different degrees of privacy and usage terms. Copyright control and license issues aside, there’s still the problem of views statistics. How to keep tab of views, comments, links to your images, etc.? It’s almost like a job in itself. But what for?
I sometimes look with envy at the numbers of other users (followers, faves/likes, comments, thumbs up). I imagine that they’re not only the result of the quality or nature of the image, but also of the promotion efforts and connections gathered by the poster. In a way, you can argue that a big part of the success of a work of art has always been a matter of how known is the artist. Promotion is good for the artist, the more your work is known, the more you’ll be requested, the more work you’ll produce, the more you’ll get known, a (theoretically) virtuous circle.
But then again, not every Flickr (or other photo-sharing service) user is an artist. At least I know I’m not.
When I look back at some of the things I posted 6 years ago I realized I’ve come a long way. Equipment and graphic tools have improved and advanced so much in these years. I’ve learned a couple of things while butchering photos. I’ve met friends that have inspired me more than once to draw and create something new. Maybe after 7 years I’ll be able to produce good images and increase my average of views per photo. Maybe get some more “faves”. Oh the possibilities!
Vivian Maier was a nanny (New York February 1, 1926 – Chicago April 21, 2009). During her free time she took photographs of street scenes. Some of them were printed but most stayed on film, sometimes not even developed. In those times, developing and printing photographs was expensive, especially one would imagine, on nanny’s wages. One can realize the passion Maier had for photography for the time and money she devoted on it. A true and private passion, as she never show anyone her photos. After she retired, she had to put her negatives collection (more than 100,000) in storage and ultimately, they were put off for auction due to delinquent payments. It was then that the world discover her photography. Maier was a very talented photographer, with a keen eye for composition and a bold personality, getting the characters of her photos to look right back at the camera, reminiscent of some Diane Arbus photos. Maier’s photos have the added value of documenting candidly the 40s-60s urban life in New York and Chicago. They also have the added mystic of their chance discovery and the cryptic history around them and their author.
In this sense, is valid to ask oneself, do Vivian Maier considered herself a nanny with a photography hobby or a photographer that happened to pay the bills tending to children? Was she meaning to produce any significant work, and if so, why not show it to anyone? In these Instagram times, it’s difficult to imagine taking a photo without “sharing” it, some of the latest digital cameras have built-in functions just for that and press-photographers are using now mobile phones to shoot events.
The first photographers were a sort of blend of geometers and chemists, like Lewis Carroll, who happened to be also an amateur photographer. With the recent omnipresence of photography, many people that in the past would have hesitated to to do so because of price or a perceived lack of talent, have taken photography as a hobby. How many Vivian Maiers will the future bring? A part of magic has been lost, all work is out for display. The irony, with such an overabundance of photographs and photographers: which will stand out? who would be remember? Now that photographs are virtual, once files are lost or corrupted, who will find them after our death? Maier hoarded her negatives in boxes, our photos are on hard disks and scattered on servers all around the world. They are no longer our photos, who can really trace them back to their author?
Vivian Maier photographs are splendid. They’re also truly unique, something that we might not be able to recreate again.
To know more about Vivian Maier’s story:
I’ve read that a good photographer knows, among others, to wait for the right moment,the camera features, how to take advantage of the light conditions, how to compensate for them, which settings to use, etc, etc.
I’m not a good photographer, I’m a Sunday photographer with negligible training but lots of good will, as I guess any Sunday artist in general oughts to be. Maybe I’m being unfair, putting other Sunday photographers in the same circumstances as me so I’ll have to create a new category for my particular style “Photo-butcher”. There.
The basics of the Photo-butcher method are the well known spray and pray, known since the times of film, but with the new, unlimited possibilities offered by digital photography – more intelligent cameras! unlimited storage! do-it-yourself editing capabilities!
Photography, since the Kodak Brownie days, has been embraced by the masses, but there was always a tacit acknowledgment that in order to get good images, a certain amount of skills and technique needed to be acquired. But now we have Scenes modes! Instagram filters! Lightroom presets! Cameras that compensate for motion blur, calculate aperture and speed instantly, recognize open eyes and smiling faces! Oh, and all the artistic possibilities of processing! You can have your photos on black and white, which means that they become de facto pieces of art, isn’t it? Everybody knows black and white means artsy, and the grainier the better! Or you can go all Lomo-loco with super saturated colors, burned highlights and black vignettes.
But you see, I’ve been there and done all that. Now I’m a stage of the Photo-butcher art where I would like a new challenge – real-life photography. I know, it’s not easy. I mean, how to avoid distorted perspectives? glaring tone overcasts? sharp images that doesn’t look cartoon-ish?
Let’s take this example, three photos taken at the same location, with different settings. Don’t ask me which settings because I can’t remember. I was in spray, pray and photoshop (SPP) mode
See how the three photos have very different color settings? Well, we can always pick one and discard the rest. But if I needed the three of them for a professional project?
Thankfully I need not worry as my income doesn’t depend on the quality of the images I produce. That’s a rare privilege of the Sunday Photo-butcher though I guess at some point I’ll need to be more serious about revising the basics of photography and come to terms with the camera manual. Oh well…
p. 93 The Information, James Gleick, 2011 Fourth Estate, London
There’s a Zen story about a woman that was very determined to become a nun. Quoting the story from 101zenstories.org:
The Buddhist nun known as Ryonen was born in 1797. She was a granddaughter of the famous Japanese warrior Shingen. Her poetical genius and alluring beauty were such that at seventeen she was serving the empress as one of the ladies of the court. Even at such a youthful age fame awaited her.
The beloved empress died suddenly and Ryonen’s hopeful dreams vanished. She became acutely aware of the impermanence of life in this world. It was then that she desired to study Zen.
Her relatives disagreed, however, and practically forced her into marriage. With a promise that she might become a nun after she had borne three children, Ryonen assented. Before she was twenty-five she had accomplished this condition. Then her husband and relatives could no longer dissuade her from her desire. She shaved her head, took the name of Ryonen, which means to realize clearly, and started on her pilgrimage.
She came to the city of Edo and asked Tetsugya to accept her as a disciple. At one glance the master rejected her because she was too beautiful.
Ryonen went to another master, Hakuo. Hakuo refused her for the same reason, saying that her beauty would only make trouble.
Ryonen obtained a hot iron and placed it against her face. In a few moments her beauty had vanished forever.
Hakuo then accepted her as a disciple.
I’m not certain of the effect sought by Zen Buddhists while meditating on this story (called Ryonen’s Clear Realization). Perhaps something about making a difference between what is real and what is an illusion, to get rid of the superfluous while searching the essential. Usually Zen Buddhist monks and nuns search for this, among other actions, by shaving their hair – source of vanity. It’s interesting to see that for Ryonen this was not enough as apparently her beauty would be a cause of distraction to the other monks. So in other to prove her determination and willingness to follow the same path as her male counterparts she had to render herself unattractive. One would think that control should be exerted by the person feeling the desires to suppress them (in this case, the man to control his impulses) and not to the person bearing a physical attribute over which they have little control to conceal them (as women had and continue to be forced to do in many contexts).
On another reading level, I like this story because it illustrates the enormous capacity of a determined woman (and the human in general) to overcome any hurdle in their way to pursue their passion. In many contexts, there’s an expectation to conform to certain visual codes, implying for women to tone down feminine traits. Sometimes I wonder if it was easier during Ryonen times to choose vocation over looks. Nowadays, in a “you can have it all” attitude, you are expected to look and act professional while at work, cool and detached in casual settings, glamorous for special occasions and sexy for racier ones. I wonder if men ever feel the pressure to look their best (and different) in every occasion.
I can think of fairy tales of girls having to fit into tiny shoes, trading voice for a pair of legs, donning on a donkey skin to hide their beauty, even falling in love with beasts. As for boys in tales, I only remember now one about a wooden boy whose nose grew bigger and bigger without control. Go figure.