Wednesday March 15 2006
Copyright The Guardian
I love Flickr. I don’t even know how I’m supposed to pronounce it but I love it all the same. For those who don’t know, Flickr.com is a photo-sharing website and it’s fair to say that it has transformed my attitude to photography.
I’ve had two or three point-and-shoot cameras in my life, the first a present from my dad for one of my teenage birthdays. The photographs I’ve taken with these various cameras are all in a box in my attic. They are, by and large, pretty dreadful pictures. A few years ago I bought a couple of albums with the grand idea of archiving them properly. I couldn’t find enough photos worth preserving to make it worthwhile.
The thing is, I have a desire to take photos, to preserve memories and document life but I’ve never really known what I’m supposed to do with my pictures when I’ve taken them.
When I bought a digital camera a few years ago I thought this was going to change things for the better. There were immediate benefits with digital photography – I loved being able to delete photos as I went so that only the good survived – but I still didn’t know what to do with the results.
If I had a good photo from a night out with my mate Chris, say, I might email Chris a copy of the picture … after all, it stands to reason that he’s likely to be interested. But if I’d taken a nice picture of the Eiffel Tower, what was I going to do with that? I’m not so vain as to assume my friends want to interrupt their day to look at pictures that don’t have any great relevance to them.
In truth, digital photography changed things not a jot. I opened the files on my computer about as often as I entered my attic.
Then I discovered Flickr. It started in San Francisco. I spent the last four months of 2005 touring a one-man show around American theatres. I wrote a regular piece about the tour for the pages of this newspaper at the time. In one of those articles I discussed watching a San Franciscan artist by the name of Bill Dan as he balanced rocks one on top of the other. He seemed able to balance them in impossible configurations that defied gravity and the resulting temporary sculptures were amazingly beautiful. Later that day I found myself compelled to see if I too could balance some rocks.
Not surprisingly I took a photo of the result. Over the next few days I made a few more attempts at rock balancing and while nothing I did came close to echoing the beauty of Bill Dan’s work it was kind of satisfying and photos were taken. (Perhaps I should add that I was going through a somewhat unhappy time. Touring the States might sound glamorous but at the same time I don’t know many people who would happily volunteer to spend four months away from their friends and family while staying in unpleasant identikit chain hotels. In short, rock-balancing was to my tour what basket-weaving is to residents of certain institutions.)
I mentioned the rock balancing on my website and even posted a couple of pictures there. It seemed to spark an interest in other people and I started to receive emails on the subject. My initial response was to discuss it further and to post more photos but I started to feel uneasy about giving it too much pertinence. My website is meant to be about my working life not my oddly therapeutic hobby. It seemed to me that someone visiting davegorman.com probably wasn’t looking for photos from an amateur rock-balancer. I decided to put a stop to it.
Which is when someone mentioned Flickr. Essentially it’s an online photo album. If you have an account you can post pictures to your pages. You can make them available for anyone to view or you can mark them as private which means that only those members of the Flickr community you choose to allow can take a look.
I created an account and added the pictures of my various rock-balancing exploits. That way, those who’d shown an interest could continue to do so and visitors to my site were more able to find what they were looking for.
If there are hundreds of thousands of people using Flickr who are able to look at your photos (and literally tens who do) that means there are also hundreds of thousands of people posting photos that you can look at too, and that became my main way of interacting with the site. I was immediately stunned by the quality of photography on display and found myself killing time browsing Flickr, happily stumbling across one incredible shot after another.
Of course there were also thousands of photos that should really be confined to someone’s attic. I have no interest in that blurry photo of a stranger and his mates down the pub no matter how many pairs of underpants they put on their heads. But that’s okay because with a click of the mouse I can be looking at an amazing shot of a hummingbird preserved expertly in mid-hover.
Suddenly photography for photography’s sake made sense because there was a place to put the resulting photo. As well as my pictures of balanced rocks I added some landscapes and what I thought was an interesting photo of a swirling spiral of a shoal of fish filling the frame. I’d never have sent that picture to anyone. It would just have sat in an unopened file on my computer for years. Instead a few hundred people have taken a look and 11 of them have left comments.
I’ve continued to use Flickr long after my US tour has ended. I now take pictures of things I would have ignored because I know there is a place for them. There are photographers whose work I regularly take a look at and most surprisingly of all, I have started to be approached by people who want to publish my photos.
I took a series of photos of graffiti done in the East End of London by a graffiti artist with the nom-de-spraycan of Eine and a Brazilian magazine has asked if they can publish them. What Digital Camera? magazine will be publishing a small selection of some others soon and two websites have been in touch to ask if they can use my shots of Los Angeles to illustrate articles about the city.
I’m as thrilled by these developments as any amateur photographer would be. I’m pleased to have taken some photos that have pleased people. I would never have taken them if it hadn’t been for Flickr.
I just want someone to tell me how to pronounce it. Is it “flicker” or “flick-R”?
Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited