Thursday, August 9, 2007

Flickr flurry, then dénouement

Over on the Soth blog, there has been a hullabaloo about flickr. Earlier, Alec posted a comment Stephen Shore made about flickr and posed the question "where are the great pictures on flickr?"; today, he emailed and received Shore's response, calling for any ire to be redirected and for a truce to re-establish the "thoughtfulness and civility of debate." For me, as it always is on Soth's blog, it was the hope of higher discussion that inspired me to throw my 2 cents in. With 227+ comments and counting, I thought I'd highlight a few quotes, including my attempts to explain my fascination with such things, as both a form of introduction and closure.

From Shane (not in comments, but on his blog): Venue aside, it’s really just a fact that all the greatest work is generally found hiding amongst everything that’s not; how could a single piece of art be particularly moving or especially nice to look at if all art was? ...It can be rather tragic to witness any previously tangible practice go digital (as Flickr is, for many, a replacement to a dusty photo album) and perhaps this is part of Shore’s frustration?

From me: As has been echoed by now hundreds of times, flickr is a tool. Some use it for marketing, some for games, some for documenting, some as a diary, and some for art - just like photography itself. It’s not so much individual images for me, but the great uses that are so brilliant, much like an amazing archive or a powerful database. This is also similar to the purpose, function, and now renewed interest in vernacular photography. With the patina of time, will all flickr images gain such collector status (that is, if they can be retained later and perhaps become physical)? Flickr for me is a giant box of photos at a flea market that I can dive in, sort through, and take what I want from it and perhaps use or think about images in new ways...Signing off - WWST (What would Stieglitz think?)

From Ryan A: Being someone who is in the process of studying cultural anthropology, i think flickr and other online sites like it are amazing–and yes, i think they are fascinating insights into people’s lives. im not sure about the images gaining some kind of artistic collector status though. i like your flea market comparison though. it seems to me that photographers, writers, and many others are always going around trying to understand humanity and life. well, sites like flickr (whether art, vernacular shoebox nonsense, or what) give pretty amazing views/slices of SO MANY lives that it’s mindblowing really. when have we ever been able to access so many people? anthropologically, flickr is a gold mine. i dont really care how much great art is there. great art is so personal anyway. who knows.

From me: Hi Ryan! I think we’re coming at this from similar angles (from art history and anthropology). What I meant by collector status was really the fascination of an image divorced from its original use. i.e., if someone came across a shoebox full of some neat square photos that had circles in them (a group on flickr) but didn’t know about its origin, man would it draw a lot of interest, both money wise and in a museum! We showed a great documentary film a while back in conjunction with a show. Other People’s Pictures followed snapshot collectors and dealt with why people collect what they do. In a way, flickr allows folks to both photo and collect, groups and pools take that one step further. And yes, it is fascinating. This weekend I will go to Home Movie Day at the Harvard Film Archive (to find where and when in your city, go to Will I see stunning art films? No. Will I see some glints of art and brilliance in someone’s old super 8 kodachrome? Yes. Will I see some amazing pieces of history, culture, and windows into people’s lives? Most definitely!

And lastly, from Ryan's blog, this comparison is apt: To me, it's a great tool, and it's incredibly fascinating to see the multitudes of ways that people employ it. Fine art be damned; I like Flickr. Speaking out against it is like coming out and saying you don't like paper. It's a tool. Some people use it to mail off their bills, some people use it to write the Grapes of Wrath.


R.A. said...

yes! the conversation continues! thanks for linking me up. that was a good discussion--i love those kinds of conversations.

although, i never thought that any of it got really out of hand, but apparently Alec Soth did. There were some rough comments, but i think for the most part people held things to a pretty civil tone.

well, except maybe my brett weston quote, but hey, i can't control what he said in 1978, can i? ha.

anyway, that was a good time. i like seeing all the ways that people conceive of photography, and how it ties in with personal identity and all that. we humans are peculiar folks, aren't we?

i need to put comments on your site more often, cause i like it. indeed.

LKB said...

I really enjoyed our discussion amongst the others too! I agree, but I can see how he might want to bring it to a close given parties involved and so many comments. Who knows what is going on over at flickr. On to the next topic!

R.A. said...


hey, i got something about cartier-bresson and flickr folks that you might like up right now. it came about from the discussions yesterday, from this link that was posted. see what you think. the situation was pretty funny.