I seem to have got right up someone’s nose.

Back in February I rambled on about Flickr, the photo sharing site and finished by asking the question ... “What’s the point?” (You can read the post here.)

I didn’t think anyone read that far back. But, to my surprise, this morning I received a comment from Josephine who writes:

What's the point? What a silly question. What's the point of showing your art? What's the point of sharing information with the ones with the same passion as you? What's the point of learning? What's the point of knowing amazing people? What's the point of taking photographs anyway?

Such frustrated and sad people....

Okay Josephine, at risk of making myself look even more frustrated and sad, let me try to reply.

Flickr isn’t the only way of ‘... showing your art ... sharing information ... learning ...’ etc. I think there are far better ways; ways which are a little more -- dare I say it? -- discerning.

It’s not easy to find the statistics, but in 2006 there were 300 million photographs on Flickr. This morning, at the moment I checked, 3’670 ‘things’ had been uploaded in the previous minute. So, there are probably a few more than 300’000’000 photos on Flickr now.

Are they all done by ‘amazing’ photographers? Are they all ‘art’? You’d be forgiven for thinking so.

I’ve just done a very quick and dirty survey, selecting photographs completely at random.

In my opinion, 1 of the photos I found was excellent - a portrait of a little girl eating a doughnut. Maybe 3 or 4 were total crap and the rest were average. Most were clearly snapshots.

Not much ‘art’ there.

Out of 10 photos I looked at, 8 had one or more comments.

I scanned through those comments – some photos had dozens – but I didn’t find a single one giving any sort of constructive criticism.

Not much ‘learning’ there.

What I did find was the same words coming up, over and over again - ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’, ‘fabulous’, ‘cool’ (sometimes with dozens of ‘o’s) ‘gorgeous’ and ‘brilliant’ kept appearing ... and re-appearing ad-nauseum.

And the number of exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Some samples:

Love this one... really, really cool! For two out-of-focus people running down a street.

Simply fabulous. A rather muddy-looking picture of a sunset over the sea with a sloping horizon.

Lovely lovely portrait! Spot-on. For the little girl with the doughnut. But the comment is still not very useful.

WOW! GREAT PHOTO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO BEAUTIFUL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (sic) This thermonuclear explosion of wonder was for a totally average shot, taken out of the window of an aircraft over London, and looked to me to be pretty flat and boring.

Am I -- sad and frustrated in Josephine's eyes -- missing something here?

Yeah ... well ... I guess I am. I suppose there is a point to Flickr.

It’s pretty good if you think you're creating 'art' every time you use your shutter finger, and you want your ego stroked.


Merc said...

Re Flickr: It may just depend on your POV. Lotsa point to my mind. Social networking is one. I guess it also has to do with why some writers put stories out there. There's that element of sharing and if someone goes to the trouble of actually writing "nice" and "thanks", hey, that's cool, too.

Alistair Scott said...

Thanks for that, Merc.

Yes, it's great to make friends and network. And if that's what Flickr is for, fine. There's a lot of 'point' in that.

But Flickr is principally a showcase for photography. And it's counter-productive to put up a load of average images and then have a stream of people tell you how utterly, utterly amazing they are.

I inspect images for a small photo agency and you wouldn't believe the junk that people submit. Trouble is, some of those people take it very hard when they're rejected. A few even get abusive. I guess that, somewhere, they've been led to believe they're utterly, utterly brilliant.

Drew said...

Alistair, your observed that "3 or 4 were total crap and the rest were average. Most were clearly snapshots." and then said "Not much art there". This implies a photo can only qualify as art if you, Alistair, like it. I think you need to come up with a better working definition of art before criticizing flickr photos thus.

You make a good point about the preponderance of vapid comments on flickr. Near the beginning of your blog post you said there were better ways of showing your art that are more discerning, but you didn't give any examples. Perhaps this could be the topic for a future blog post.

Alistair Scott said...

Hi Drew. Welcome to my blog.

And thanks for taking me to task over my comments.

I certainly don’t mean to imply that “... a photo can only qualify as art if (I) like it ...”. Who am I to judge such things?

However, I was responding to the original comment by Josephine in which she wrote about photographers ‘showing their art’ and ‘knowing amazing people’ (amongst other things).

It seems to me that photography is different from other art forms in one highly significant way - it is possible to create an image in a fraction of a second with very little effort on the photographer’s part.

You can’t do that in painting, sculpture, music, writing, or any other art form that I know of. They all require a certain amount of thought and effort to produce something.

That means you can pick up a camera, press the shutter button, get an image and cry out, “Hey, look everyone! Art!”

Then you can post it on Flickr and get the vapid comments. (N.B. I haven’t done an in-depth survey, but I have never seen a constructively critical comment on Flickr.)

To me, art requires a certain amount of thought, planning, control ... intention.

There are really some great works on Flickr. But ... you have to admit ... the good stuff is heavily outweighed by dross that appears to have been taken on the spur of the moment.

Drew said...

Alistair, there is one word that stands out in your reply above, and that word is "Intention"; I think it is the key. When it comes to defining art, not only is intention a necessary component, I think it might be the *only* component, that makes something 'art'. This is, of course, a philosophical question that we can discuss at great length.

As for "thought, planning and control", I'm inclined to disagree that these are essential components of art, since some types of art arise from spontaneity. A common example is musical improvisation. There are likely good examples from the visual arts as well. This point is probably also one that we could discuss in great depth if we wanted.

Lest you think I'm being too generous to flickr content by allowing it as art merely because there's some intention behind it, I should add that intention doesn't necessarily mean it's good art. It just means it's art. The bulk of content on flickr might be crappy. Crappy art. But at least it's art.

As a footnote I'll add that personally I value my experience on flickr. I have a select group of contacts whose work I follow regularly, and it gives me much inspiration and food for artistic thought.

I'm looking forward to your future posts.

Alistair Scott said...

Thanks Drew. But I think you’ll agree that ‘crappy’ is a hugely subjective term. One person’s crap is another’s masterpiece. And, as you say, it could be discussed in great length. This isn’t really the place to do it.

However, as I write this I’m looking at an image on Flickr, selected at random, that was posted yesterday (3rd January). It is a photo of the River L’Isle in France, probably 30 minutes or so after sunset. The sky is sort of okay I suppose, though it’s a sky that you can see at this time on almost any partially cloudy winter’s day. What’s more, it appears to be over-exposed in parts.

The banks of the river are underexposed and so dark it’s impossible to see any detail. There’s some piece of industrial equipment - or a fence, I can’t make it out – in the bottom left foreground. There’s no subject, no point of interest, and no attempt at composition that I can discern.

I think most people would agree that it is an average to bad image. If I’d taken it I’d rub it out.

However, it has already gained 60 glowing comments, numerous ‘awards’ with fancy logos, and I gave up counting the ‘amazing’s that were used. Someone’s even written “Your photo screams photographer!”.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve nothing against Flickr, per se. It’s a marvellous idea to be able to share photos with others.

I just don’t think that the Flickr habit of heaping fulsome praise on average images does photography, as an art form, any favours.

(P.S. I think I’ll join Flickr in order to post critical comments. Would I be popular?)