Monday, October 6, 2008

"flickering" Thoughts

I’ve been playing around on flickr for the past while. For those who don’t know, flickr is a photo sharing website with teeming millions of photographers.

Some are scary good. I’ve seen utterly remarkable Photoshop and Photography work.

I’ve also seen some really awful stuff: snapshots of vacations, "cute pet" pics, endless wedding and family reunion photos.

(My photostream, loaded with travel and Photoshopped stuff is here: in case you want to go there and begin writing wild notes of praise and send me blank signed checks.)

Times at my company have been really busy – which explains why I haven’t been around much. It’s not that I don’t think of you guys. But it takes me quite a while to put together a reasonable blog and time has been a real luxury lately.

But back to flickr for a second. Here are a couple of thoughts:

1) We are talking about a site that is as much about politics and networking as it is about the photos. Those who are well-connected get a TON of immediate response to their work.

What is “response?” People can “comment” on your photo. They can also choose to make your photo a “favorite.” Or they may make you a “contact” – which means they want to have constant updates on your work. The "genuine" compliments are the latter two.

My issue with this is that no one really seems to want advice. The comments are unstintingly positive. If people really wanted to hear what you think, they would say so. Read through the comments on pictures and try to find one…just ONE…that has a real suggestion for how to make the image more effective.

2) The awards are mostly meaningless. Since many flickr groups are intent on spreading their name around, there is a tremendous emphasis on giving out “awards.” As an example: some groups will demand that if you post one of your pictures, you are expected to make group “awards” to at least two other pictures. (“Awards” are codes you cut and paste from the sponsor group.)

The result, somewhat predictably, is that there are tons of awards given. This means that people aren’t really looking for “award worthy” work. They are looking for likely candidates to dump awards on. Not the same thing. Many people cut and paste awards and make no comment at all.

I think this leads to “fickr fever” – a condition where the patient is unable to sleep for fear of missing even one positive comment the very instant it arrives. The patient is constantly trying to cook up new ways to curry the favor and attention of other flickrites.

I’ve created my own award that I give to work I genuinely respect.

2) BUT there is a mind-blowing variety of material available on flickr. I’ve learned a LOT just from looking at the hundreds (maybe thousands) of photos. You see how different artists approach the same topic, how they visually depict various ideas and concepts.

You’ll see illustrations and Photoshop. You’ll see photography and snapshots, landscapes and portraits. You’ll see photographs from all around the world of interesting people doing interesting stuff.

This is probably the very best reason to check flickr out. The compact exposure to all kinds of new art and visual “muscle” is candy for anyone’s eye. There are outstanding artists on flickr.

3) It’s interesting to see what people comment on…when they do comment. A great photograph HAS to be about more than a great subject. Everyone likes to see cute kittens, pretty girls and fabulous sunsets. These images really draw tons of comments on flickr.

But often it’s a lousy photograph of a great subject that also draws comment after comment. Sure. It’s a cute kitten or a lovely girl. But often it’s a badly composed or poorly exposed image. Sometimes the images are over-processed. A great subject in a terrible photo is still a terrible photo.

I am astounded at how often the viewer chooses to overlook this stuff and “oooh” and “ahhh” about the subject instead. Reading the comments will give you a great insight on how your image might be viewed by its audience…an audience you never meet.

4) The absolute “proof in the pudding” about all things flickr is the answer to these questions: “Has being there made me a better artist? Do I think about the things I have learned from other people at flickr? Has the bar for my own work been set a little higher?”

The answer to all three questions, for me anyway, is “yes.”

So I am planning to devote the next few blogs to discussing the work of some of the exceptional artists I have found on flickr.

Stick around. It’s going to be interesting!

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