There was a time that I would spend a lot of energy and resources around photography – going to exhibitions, reading manuals, tutorials, magazines, websites, taking photos, butchering photos digitally, posting photos, classifying photos. And then somehow the interest has faded away. I realize there weren’t really lots of new things that I could learn about the basics. That doesn’t mean that I came to master them, but that it comes a point that you have to go beyond learning the theory and start practicing the theory in a more rigorous way. Same with keeping up with new gear – if you don’t plan to use or really need it, you just have to settle at some point with what you have. Other interests come and fill up your free time.
I need to make a conscious effort to make time for photography because I do like taking photos, but it might have to coincide with new travels, new settings. There is also a need to find inner sources of motivation. Probably in the past I relied too much on feedback from others, even though I never had a huge follower base, there were always the odd internet acquaintances – some of them even professional photographers – that would give me an eventual comment or recommendation.
But it might be a good thing after all, if I get back into butchering photos doing it without needing or expecting feedback. At some time I did, and maybe I should start again, posting horrible photos with burnt highlights and clipped shadows, with horrible posterized colors and centered subjects, with no regard to depth of field, sharpness or blurriness for that matter. Ah, yes, to be free and careless, a brut artist. Oh wait,maybe someone will find something to praise there. Oh well, you can never win …
‘Selfie’ – the contraction for self-portrait – was declared word of the year 2013 by to Oxford Dictionaries. But apparently people take the term selfie as just a photo of themselves, not necessarily taken by themselves. I’ve also seen the term used for photos where the ‘selfie‘ is accompanied by other people. Do group photos count as ‘selfies‘?
Looks like it’s enough for a selfie to count as one if you can ‘picture’ yourself in the photo taken.
Interesting how photomaton photos weren’t really considered as self-portraits though technically the subject was the one operating the machine. No one said in a form – attach (self)portrait.
Even weirder is the use of the term unselfie – logically, what is not a selfie will count as a unselfie. It is almost like a zen koan:
What is left from a selfie once you remove yourself from the picture?
Flickr is a mess lately. They say they’re putting the emphasis on mobile, like everybody else nowadays, which makes that the beta version shows photos in a resolution optimized for mobile devices, but are too small for viewing on a wide screen. Using Flickr lately has been very frustrating, I can’t opt out of the beta version, and seeing how things are headed, most probably this new version will stay. Also the perm rolling feature of displaying the photos make it very cluttered a difficult to view and sort through older photos.
All this made me think – what’s the point of using Flickr now?
I started using Flickr about the time I re-started doing sketches and taking digital photographs. Nowadays it looks like we have been doing it forever, but 8 years ago digital cameras were starting to get more common and the whole concept of sharing with a bunch of strangers your photos was picking up.
At the time I was part of a group on visual thinking and got some feedback and inspiration to continue to do sketches. I spent a lot of time on Flickr because they had an online photo editor (that was later bought by Google, can’t remember its name right now) before I moved on to other photo editors.
So, basically, my main motivation to use Flickr has been its ability to store, group and share photos, together with the possibility of getting new ideas from other photo collections (mainly The Commons collections). But now visiting my own Flickr photostream is getting increasingly frustrating. Shall I stop posting my photos/sketches on Flickr? After, what is the use of “sharing” for the sake of sharing when you don’t get any feedback? I rarely get “faves” or comments and the views a photo gets don’t tell me much, other than they are directly proportional to the effort I put on “promoting” them, i.e. posting the link to Twitter.
Yet, there’s still the question, if I’m not interested in “promoting” the images I produce, what’s the point of uploading them to Flickr and leave them available to anyone to view them? I guess there’s always a part of ourselves that seeks a certain approval or recognition from the other. And being our “creations” (though too big a word for a simple snapshot or a quick sketch) expressions ourselves, we tend to identify ourselves to them. So if our creations find no liking among our audience, what can expect of our very selves? That is, of course, keeping all due proportions. Still, tiny bits of our “selves” being systematically ignored, can amount to a very demotivating force.
Lots to ponder. For sure I’ll continue doing sketches and butchering photos. I can always share photos with my mother (an unconditional fan for whatever I might produce) by email. And I know that there are a couple of internet friends that might be interested in seeing from time to time one of my drawings or even the odd photo. Just wondering if there’s more people out there that might be interested and I if should care at all. But then again, is not like I’ll get any feedback either from this post. Just thinking aloud. Is there anything like “drawing aloud”?
When I was in Seoul, I wanted to take a photo of the photos shown in a photo studio. Then a man on a motorbike came into the frame and stopped, waiting for the lights to change. I didn’t to want him in the picture but the shutter was already triggered and since the composition somehow worked to me, I decided to keep the photo.
I don’t like to take photographs of people. There’s a part of me, the Indigenous one, which still believes that by taking a photo of someone you steal part of their soul. Think about it. The man that drove past me won’t be the same ever again after the photo was taken, but in the photo he’ll be permanently wearing a helmet, driving a motorbike. The old man in the photo on the background might have already passes away and his photo will still be hanging there. We will all die and leave only pieces of our soul hanging off photos until they also fade away slowly. If we’re lucky, those photos will show us in our best light, if we’re unlucky, they’ll show us in our lowest. In that sense, there’s something really disturbing about people so affect to photographing homeless people (e.g. see Street Photography: Exploitative vs Respect)
Why so many people like to do “street photography”? I don’t know. I know that for me is not much of a choice: I don’t have enough resources to do much other styles of photography. I don’t have access to a studio; I have a couple of tripods but no external flash, no reflectors, no special equipment, a hide, access to wilderness spot to do wildlife photo… In fact, taking all into account, I don’t do more than the original Kodak Brownie owners did: take snapshots of the vistas during my travels. Because you want to prolong the feeling and emotions of being in a foreign place, because you want to share with loved ones and, now, the whole world, what you discovered in the other side of the world. We are all discoverers of places and people that have existed long before we met them and long before we’ll leave them.
While taking photos in Seoul, I put myself in a funny situation. All of a sudden I felt like all those Asian tourists (Japanese, Korean, Chinese, take your pick) we mock for carrying a camera and snapping photos all the time of all they see. And then, it was my turn: I was the naive tourist taking photos of store windows, cars, food stalls. And the locals were looking right back at me, both an exotic view myself, taking photos of, let’s say, some very ordinary photo studio window shop.
I told one of my dear Twitter friends, Tim Gander, how he reminded me of Manuel Álvarez Bravo and he wrote this excellent post about him. The photo that prompted me to make this comparison was one of a young, pensive Manuel Álvarez Bravo (MAB) that was used as the poster image for his retrospective exhibition in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Mexico City last year.
The Museo de Bellas Artes inherited of his collection, comprising not only his photographic archives but also his art collection that included prehispanic figurines, books, prints, illustrations and photos of contemporary photographers that were personal friends of MAB.
I have not much too add to what he wrote that hasn’t been already said before by more informed and knowledgeable people.
MAB has been in the world photo scene since the beginning of his career – the 20s of last century – but I would like to comment in something Tim picked up in his post: MAB’s obsession with death.
MAB was born in 1902 in Mexico City and while growing up he witnessed the violence and crudeness of the conflicts leading towards and during the Revolution, as well as the union struggles of the 1930s . Those were the same years that saw the birth of the “Catrina” and other skelleton characters of Posada.
Death has been a constant companion of Mexicans throughout our history and an important part of our search for a national identity, one that will integrate European and Indigenous roots and was taking shape amidst the conflict.
Another big influences on MAB’s work was the surrealist movement which reminds me of Man Ray’s work. MAB, as Man Ray, also started as a graphic artist but decided to learn and use photography as a medium, not just to portrait reality but to talk about concepts. André Breton said of Mexico that it was the most surreal country in the world, so maybe MAB work’s look surrealist to European eyes while to us Mexicans it’s the illustration of our identity.
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! 🙂