Genies and Djinn III: The Folly of Flickr Flattery

I know I said I was going to post this yesterday, in keeping with my big-ol'-hunk-o'-content, but I got distracted by something very shiny and spent the day doing other things.

Now I'm back.

I spoke yesterday of my flickr account and what I try to accomplish when I take pictures of people.

I have, of course, found specific artists I admire in the flickr world. Gregory Kim is one. Scott 5x5(caution: some images NSFW) is another.

The work available ranges from simple and innocent studies in skin texture and tone to complex and sultry captures of erotica. Simple tricks like environmental lighting and use of local props or weather opportunities are easier to pick up when you notice how they effect the picture rather than just being told to try them.

I do have one major complaint with Flickr, however. It seems that any artist with a large enough body of work (especially those who take erotic or revealing photographs) will attract a legion of flickr surfers and fans. The comment system (being painless and extremely easy to use) then begins to come into play.

And by and large, the collection of comments an image of the female body will generate is the most vapid, useless, pile of bullshit one could ever hope to discover anywhere on the internet.

This image (caution, contains cleavage) is a typical example. There are twelve comments on the image. Of them, exactly three actually contain feedback that is unique to the content of image. And those three read as follows:

"nice shading between her breasts"
"Fantastic contrast !. . ."
". . .Nice pose there!"

This image (caution, contains implied nudity and a midriff!) from Scott 5x5 is a much more rare case. The image was posted sometime yesterday and there are already thirteen comments about it. Of those thirteen, five reference the photographic quality and content, and one even presents a mild criticism.

This criticism is like a needle in the haystack of the flickr system, rare and often incredibly valuable.

More than half of the comments left on an image won't reference the content at all, being hollow, from-the-hip back-pats like "amazing" or "beautiful shot!" The comments could have just as well been left by a simple comment script acting at random.

Meanwhile, most of the remaining comments talk only about the subject "wow, she's really beautiful", "hot!" or my personal favorite for being both useless and somewhat degrading: "humina humina!"

When I post an image like the one to the right, sure, I'd love to hear the occasional "pretty!" or "neat idea" but far more appreciated would be "the lighting is too bright, did you try it with a softer source?" or "the angle seems kindof funny. Maybe from closer to floor level?" Those comments, from other photographers, would aid my development as an artist and give me a step-up in improving my work.

My models don't need their self-esteem stroked. When they chose to climb in front of the camera they were already proving their own self-confidence was strong (I once told one of my models that a previous shoot she'd done was amazing because the photographer had managed to capture every bad angle her face had, and none of the myriad of good ones). Everyone is not a beautiful and unique flower, and not every picture of a woman (even of a beautiful woman) is a beautiful image.

I feel that the constant back-patting and mutually-masturbatory discourse in the flickr comment system does more harm than good, stifling revision, challenge and improvement in favour of the status quo. "Do more of what you're doing, it's lovely" is not always the best message to send. Especially when the artist is using the wrong exposure times, shooting subjects poorly, or just generating crap images. That kind of encouragement is only going to cause them to get stuck doing the same thing they've been doing since they started.

I call for a Flickrevolution! Stop being so damn nice to one another and point out ways we can all improve. Let's move forward and actually get somewhere.

[All of these images are mine, and can be saved/reworked and redistributed as much as you like as long as I'm given credit and you don't charge for the result (copyleft, creative commons image, etc.)]

Saturday, October 08, 2005


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