I was an early adopter of the photo sharing site Flickr. At the time, it offered so many things; the ability to upload many images per month without fear of running out of space, an open platform for sharing your images with a stable URL, and the ability to post images to your blog. All fantastic stuff. And it also gave me the extra bonus of making me part of a community. Many communities in fact, as we got to start and join lots and lots of groups. And the ability to comment on people’s images and also see how many people had viewed your images and made them favourites. It was pretty good and for a while it was pretty perfect too. I paid to become a member and loved it. For me the highlight of the day was logging into Flickr to see who had “faved” your image or how many hits you had gotten overnight. But then after a year or two I began to realise that this yearning to see who had said what about my pictures had become somewhat of an obsession. It became the first thing that I opened in the morning, even before I read my email or the news. And that obsession carried on throughout the day, with me checking back again and again to see if I had more fans. I seemed to be more interested in what people thought of my pictures than I thought myself.
The next problem occurred for me when I realised that there is a “Flickr style”, a type of photo that gets “faved” again and again. You probably know the sort of photo that I am taking about – heavily saturated, high res, or “Lomo” and cross processed. I found that I was unconsciously trying to make my photos conform to a certain style, just so I could get hits and faves. The moment I realised this I was horrified, but found by then that I was too addicted to stop. I really wanted to experiment with my photography, and whilst getting feedback is always a good thing, sometimes the rule of the mob isn’t what you need when you are trying things out that might not be so popular with everyone else. I had to stop this spiral, or I would forever go on making images to make other people, my peer group of online “friends”, happy, instead of making images and exploring avenues that were of interest to me.
The other two nails in the coffin. I realised that someone was stealing my photos and re-uploading them on Flickr and claiming them as their own. I soon put a stop to that but it left a nasty taste. The the cruncher. One morning I opened my mail inbox and there was a comment from somebody I had added as a friend a week or so before. It simply said “You are the worst photographer in the world”. That’s it. Nothing else. No reason why they thought that. Had I upset them? I checked back through my comments to them – nothing. I realised that it was someone’s idea of a joke, but I didn’t find it very funny.
The only way that I could see of breaking out of this was to stop using Flickr altogether. It was a tough decision, as I had lots of contacts from all over the world, and it seemed like I was losing all of that. But I had to stop. It was helped by the fact that I ran into financial problems and it was a frivolous extra – still is. But stop I did. In fact, for a while I stopped taking photos altogether.
Now, on the other side, I am just starting to take photos again, and this time I am being much more careful. I am taking less photos. I am thinking about what images I want to make. The images here are amongst the last few photos that I uploaded to Flickr before I stopped. Anything after this point will be very different.