Flickr, I blame you…

Dear Flickr,

It’s all your fault. I didn’t grow up taking pictures. One brother kept a brownie strapped around his neck on our trips, snapping away at who knew what (I don’t remember his photos or if he ever shared them, but I do remember his flash going off in my face…); my mother had a Minolta that she and my other brother commanded, he growing into a photographer of elegant moody abstractions, she capturing the family in all its boisterous moments. My dad and I just looked. And I jotted things down in a notebook.

last sunset in january

Okay, yeah, I majored in art history. That choice had as much to do with it being the only major in my college in those days that pushed students to look at culture from a variety of perspectives: history, literature, religion, science, political science, anthropology. That I loved looking at pictures never struck me as anything special–it was a way to see how artists saw the world, and artists saw the world. (Besides, looking at slides in class and hanging out in museums as homework sure beat listening to famous teachers drone on in lecture and reading indecipherable textbooks or having beloved novels and poems shredded by this theory or that.)

from window to window, Wiscassett Maine

So why do I find myself as drawn to my camera as to my pen? It’s you Flickr, it’s you.

Interested as I am in transformation and transition, in creativity and culture, I wonder about this shift. Am I an example of the fact that “our historical moment is experiencing a pictorial turn” ? (W.T.J. Mitchell, Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation, p.13) Evidence of Michel de Certeau’s assertion: “From TV to newspapers, from advertising to all sorts of mercantile epiphanies, our society is characterized by a cancerous growth of vision, measuring everything by its ability to show or be shown and transmuting communication into a visual journey” ? (The Practice of Everyday Life, p.xxi) Am I incapable of paying more attention to something than the seconds focussed before snapping the photo? Am I using images because “they are no longer just representations or interpreters of human actions[?] They have become central to every activity that connects humans to each other and to technology–mediators, progenitors, interfaces–as much reference points for information and knowledge as visualizations of human creativity.” (Ron Burnett How Images Think, p. xiv) Am I part of the tide of vernacular creativity?

And yet I am not a collector of moments. Of human moments, that is. I’m not trying to convey directly what I think & observe & experience. I work in metaphor. I am not a chronicler of much of anything except the detail of light and color and bits of things. I’m a fragmenteur. Funny for a slow (long-post) blogger.

from the hibiscus

But it’s true, Flickr, I find myself at the screens of groups such as this and this more than blogs, or books. This is nuts. You’re my first stop each morning, before email, Twitter, blogs, Facebook. I comb your riches for clues about taking better pictures. I read the conversations, leave comments, check out the tips, and wander around sideways, discursively, looking looking. I check to see if Alan has written any more Flickr posts, bits and pieces of his everyday musings. I look to see if Bryan has fresh bread on his counter. What Jen’s kids are up to today. What new drawing Nancy has posted. What D’Arcy has seen from his bike. I haven’t even met Jen or D’Arcy. I “see” all these folks on Twitter and blogs, but it is here on Flickr where I find them most compelling.

But there’s more I blame you for–. There’s that one group, especially that group. That group, you know. Or perhaps I need to blame D’Arcy or Alan for the 365 Day Flickr Group, that fascinating slice of vernacular creativity. Some people capture everyday moments, some work in metaphor. Some are serious about each image, others about sharing their lives. Conversations abound there. Little ones that spread out between group members. It brings more viewers to my photos, and then me to other Flickr-ers. People whose work I admire in other venues, for instance, also take photos that charm and surprise.

What this group has really done to me, for me is make me stretch to take one really good photo every day. Some days I’m pleased. Some days I think, not so much. I have looked harder at my regular haunts; I pay attention to qualities of light and air and angle and color and shape when I travel. Yesterday, as I drove back from Maine, a bald eagle flew over the road and banked so beautifully that the light infused his white belly with an unearthly glow. All I could think about for a moment was how great a shot that would have been–Yikes! Only later, a mile up the road or so, did I realize that it was the first time I had ever seen a bald eagle in Vermont. How extraordinary that moment was. He wasn’t a picture or the subject of a picture, but a bird endangered in this part of the country. Put the camera down, Barbara. But…would I have seen him if I hadn’t been looking around with that kind of intensity?

overseeing the last sunrise of the month

I’m getting up before dawn to watch the light slip up and over the mountains. I have a favorite tree I check out every morning. You see, Flickr? This is getting out of hand.

I have so much to learn. My brother (of the elegant moody abstractions) scolds me for not attending to the corners of my images. My daughter, who has studied photography and takes gorgeous shots that make me re-see her subjects, urges me to sharpen my depth of field. My old student and soon-to-be intern critiques my photos in Flickr,
recently expressing his ambivalence about a photo I had thought was pretty interesting, and suggesting ways to improve it. These are invaluable responses to my work; I wish more comments were of this ilk. Now, dear Flickr, I would like nothing more than to spend a week in a photography workshop, learning the technical aspects of shooting in RAW, of composition; looking at photos, having my photos critiqued. I even slid in a suggestion for a pre-Northern Voice WordCampEd session on shooting pictures and attending to blog visuals.

After checking out Flickr each morning, I head tosome of my favorite blogs, and why look at that, they are all about the visual. And only then do I move into the day.

I’m out the door now, headed to New York City for a few days, both work and play, and I’m thinking about the great people and meetings and dinners and museums down there, but really, it’s all about the camera, as About New York knows.

So, thanks a lot, Flickr. Having a place to share my photos, to connect with others around photography, and to learn more about my aesthetic, and about the ways in which people understand the world through image, has transformed my creative expression, my more scholarly discourse, and, well, my life.

Now, where’s my camera–it’s 8:30 a.m. and I haven’t yet taken a single picture today.



12 Responses

  1. It is all D’Arcy’s fault- I’ve had many a successes in my career by DWDD (Doing What D’Arcy Does).

    I love reading what this venture has done to/for you. The beauty is that the exercise is what we make of it. We can fret over making “better” photos, or we can be happy with silly, blurry, non professional ones. We can be topical or not. We can be serious one day and goofy the next.

    I’ve had the missed opportunities too, where I was camera-less or not-camera-quick-enough, yet then again, I smile like you did at your eagle encounter that even w/o the camera– you are looking at the world in new ways. That is powerful.

    I hardly worry if other people think my photos are good (of course, I am human, and my ego is more than tickled when they say so), but the only thing I truly hinge on is– what does the photo mean to me? Does it excite me to see how it matched my eye? Did it reveal something I did not see at first? It’s like when one starts a competition like running, and you get all caught up in comparisons to others than just racing against yourself. I am oh so happy to never take myself seriously at photography.

    So I’ll be hinging a l lot of my Northern Voice talk on this topic– you may be called on in class 😉

    PS- I took an undergrad Art History class as an elective and admit it was one of my favorites for many of the reasons you described, but also, it got me looking at buildings and paintings differently.

  2. great, great post. one thing that really struck me after going through 2007/365photos was how differently I was seeing things. I felt as though I was noticing things – light, colour, shadow, patterns, textures, motion, juxtaposition, lines, etc… that I had seen before, without really SEEING them before. Even without a camera in hand, I think I’m seeing things differently, and that’s a wonderful thing.

    although all of this activity could take place independently, without Flickr, it’s the sense of community that makes it so engaging. I’ve been photoblogging my stuff for awhile now, but it’s the activity on Flickr that makes it so much fun. And it’s pretty fracking cool to hear about all of the people who took on the project and have gone through similar transformations in how they see their world.

  3. Oh my goodness. We do have so much in common. That photo of the birches erupting from snow….. It could be exchanged for a photo I took a week ago here.

    I can’t live without the camera now. Sometimes it appeases me more than words.

  4. You told MY story! People around now me think that I am a geek! I recommend you to join images4education, the session I blame for being like this. My “phobia” has just started 5 weeks ago, but, reading your post, now I know where it will lead me.
    PS I didn’t post a single post in that session, but the effect is much wider for a lurker.

    Hala (Sudan)

  5. Sorry!
    The link to the session:

  6. […] Entretingut, amb bones idees i magníficament il·lustrat. Barbara Ganley, (the new) bgblogging. [L’enllaç] [etiquetes: programari d’imatges, […]

  7. Hay! You cannot blame flickr. Blame D’Arcy… er I mean, “credit” him.

  8. I blame all three of you (and credit you, too)–Flickr, D’Arcy, you, Alan, for the fact that I never go a day without thinking about taking pictures, taking pictures and scurrying to Flickr to see what else is there. Look, it has taken me days to jump back onto the blog, but I don’t miss a day with the photos. I very much look forward to meeting D’Arcy the guru in person next week. Then he’ll see how I lug around camera and lenses, and now Flip as well. Thanks to both of you for such inspiration, mentoring through your blogs and comments and photos!

    Beth, I see that correspondence, too. I like how I quiet with the camera, grow still while alert, closer to fox or hawk than ever with words.

  9. Like you I always have my trusty little camera with me. I know little about the ‘niceties’ of being a good photographer… but again like you I sure take a lot of pictures. Not only does taking pictures make me look at things with greater curiosity and interest, but more importantly for me, when I look at the photos later they show me what I saw. Sounds simple-minded, but I often don’t actually ‘see’ much when I take the picture; it is only afterwards when I look at it on the screen, maybe straighten it or crop it, that I say to myself, whoaaa – so that’s what I was looking at; I never even saw it. Bet it’s like that for lots of people, no?

  10. I enjoyed the poetic approach and your pictures are beautiful. The most stunning part of the post, though, was the revelation that art history taught about culture so completely. I always knew I enjoyed it; I never thought about why.

  11. […] stories witnessed from my new bike. I wrote recently about how Flickr’s 365 Photo Group has changed the way I that I take notice of the world. My […]

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