Flickr Nostalgia

Read with this in mind, there are exceptions to everything I mention here, I don’t speak from everyones point of view, only my own perspective, I mostly wanted to open up a dialogue and while I started to write the basic ideas mentioned below on Twitter I quickly realized how hard it is to be nuanced on that platform, so without further digression…

I have been thinking lately about how much I have missed the sense of community and open conversation found in the “good old days” of Flickr before modern social media platforms took off and changed everything. Instagram snuck in as more and more cameras attached to mobile phones started to muddy the photography waters and eventually even those shooting on DSLRs and film cameras started to jump ship to “where the audience was”.

But Instagram has one glaring problem for photography enthusiasts in that the whole service is now centered around the concept of personal celebrity rather than community. I realize there are some who somehow manage to jerry-rig the service into something that connects people but it sure is counterintuitive. A hashtag is not a conversation. A hashtag is a well you throw your work into, bottomless voids you hope to get noticed in.

(Heres the bit that my come across a little cynical, I’m not trying to be but I could see how it could be read that way, bear with me here and remember I write this from the perspective of a photography enthusiast, not an average user.) The idea of community in the Instagram age is reduced to posturing and fighting upstream through trends to make your way to the top. It’s fine for casual fun, but feels poisonous to the photographic community as a whole. Central popular figureheads and a hyper casual style of browsing photographs devalue photographic work and lead to an unbalanced, trend forward form of inspiration. Not to mention there are so many ads now it’s hard to tell if what I’m looking at is something a friend posted or if I’m being sold to. Commercial interests reach out with sly hands in attempts to influence groups of users and it’s more or less up to the integrity of those who get offered such opportunities to let in that kind of influence or not.

This is in stark contrast to the groups and forums of Flickr which more often than not, encourage contributors to learn, experiment, collaborate, and grow as photographers. I still think its amazing that my wife, YoungDoo, noticed the potential of this community early on (way back in 2006!) and created a group called “Flickr In Seoul” that drew hundreds of contributors and she helped start meet ups in different areas of Seoul where photographers could meet up and geek out in person and continue the conversations started within the online community. It lead photographers to engage with each other and learn, experiment and grow. She met countless lifelong friends around the world through her time running the group. It was a nurturing community, unlike most that I stumble into on instagram which sort of turns everyone into a wallflower, hiding in the shadows hoping one of the cool kids will notice them.

Instagram was never meant to be what it has become. It worked fine as an intermediary between friends using their iPhones to snap photos and share them with each other but through time it has become nefarious in the photography world because at the heart of its functionality it is a broken platform for connecting with a wider community in meaningful ways. Using it as a pseudo “portfolio” sometimes works as a marketing tool but it has long felt like it has too many shortcomings to be a good place to connect with others in meaningful ways.

Taking a step away from Instagram, there are places to connect with other photographers such as Reddit or other photography centric web forums like photo.net but there is something special about Flickr and the way it combines a place built first and foremost as somewhere to share our photographic work with easily accessible, interest specific forums.

I feel as though comment sections will never be able to replace a well moderated community forum. Hashtags only have algorithms to help propagate quality content and separate it from those trying to abuse a tag for personal gain, searches become messy and wildly inconsistent. I have tried to follow hashtags a couple of times but often end up with a stream of content not often related at all to the topic.

Flickr also uses tags, and has since I can remember, but a key difference is they are usually used more as a utility to share details about any given photograph such as locations or lens, camera, and film details. The substantial feature that sets Flickr apart as a platform for sharing though, is their groups feature. I have always enjoyed surfing through groups to find communities of like minded photographers to share with. There are people who try to abuse groups just as much as there are those who lay down 50 or so hashtags in Instagram, relevant or not to what they were sharing, but groups often have rules and moderators to help guide them along. While no system may be perfect, at least with Flickr there is more of a structure to help facilitate curated sustainability.

Here is an example of how I have used and loved groups in the past. Imagine, you’re interested in a camera, lens, or system, old or new. I hop on Flickr and do a search through groups to find users of nearly every camera type, system or lens you could imagine. Small or sometime large pools of users all happy and eager to share what they have been capturing with their favorite camera or film lay in wait to help share opinions good and bad. I am able to ask questions to users and explore the different types of results people are getting from them by browsing photos in the group. While there are indeed less active users today as there were in the past, it has been a truly fantastic resource for anyone in the market for a new camera or for anyone wanting to connect with other users to talk shop, collaborate, or learn tips from others using similar equipment.

This extends to artistic sub-genres as well. I remember submitting images to tightly curated groups that would focus on collecting images for zines, or groups of specific moods, locations, and concepts. It was great fun finding others who were interested in like minded shooting styles and feed off of each other’s creativity. I often miss this the most, especially when I’m feeling I could use a little inspiration.

All this is not to say Flickr is a perfect platform for everyone with a camera. I find it is best for those who are honestly excited about using their cameras, professional, amateur, or otherwise but I do hope that the platform continues to evolve and possibly grow under its latest management and change of ownership (Yahoo always felt like a weird fit). I hope to see improvements in the app they offer for smartphones and update it for smoother browsing and searching as well as smoother, more encouraged access to in their groups and communities. I would also love to see them bring user profiles back into more of a prevalent position within said browsing as a means to offer users a place to tell some about themselves, link to other places to find them on the web, and to act as a central bouncing off point to discover others with a like minded style, set of interests, or similar gear even.

Today I mostly wanted to write about what I have always admired about Flickr. If you find value in Instagram, as I do, then by all means, keep contributing there. It is great for broad social networking because it has such a large user pool. My goal here today is to encourage more photographers to rediscover what makes Flickr so great and I’m only scratching the surface here really. I am, perhaps, also hopeful that as Instagram gets weirder as Facebook continues to subtly manipulate it, those wanting to engage, share, and collaborate with other photographers will give Flickr a try either again or for the fist time. Why put photographs you are proud of on a platform that will bury them in selfies, jokes, memes, and ads then use every possible ounce of data and information about you to not only manipulate your use of the application but also use it to scrape together enough money in ads to keep the doors open?

One last question, just to toss one more log onto the fire, would you pay for instagram? If you could have a more focused feed, free of ads, with more control over what you see and how you experience the platform with less privacy concerns, would you? I Think I would, but I know that most likely will never happen. It’s just not how Facebook does buisness, their currency is people and the more they can sway to join up or use the service the better it is for their motivations. So why not try an alternative that isn’t so manipulative?

In my opinion, it’s well worth the cost of entry to support, browse, and be part of a community of other photographers without fighting through ads and the noise of everyone throwing wishes in a well.
At any rate, thanks for tuning in. Maybe I just I miss the genuine connections as we shared our craft with each other before passive browsing became so commonplace. from the chatter I have heard here and there online, I’m not the only one with opinions like these and I really hope to see more of you back over there among the conversation as well. See you soon!

Comments

  1. Timbu - March 5, 2019 at 9:50 pm

    Thank you! I also see so much Flick bashing, but it’s a community I treasure for many of the same reasons you list. On top of that it’s still easy to post pictures with Creative Commons licenses if that is your thing.

  2. Ben - March 9, 2019 at 2:11 am

    I logged on to Flickr a few days ago, thinking I would delete a few photos to get inside the free account limit. In some ways it is sad to see once busy groups I am still a member of which have now gone quiet, but the site is definitely still alive and like you say, there is nothing else like Flickr.

    So, rather than delete photos I am going to punt $50 on a recovery, and spend some more time there. Have added you as a follow, let’s bring back the old Flickr!

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