A painting of me

4 Billion Photos

   29 October 2009, early morning

Flickr is often looked on disparagingly by the more established photographic community. This is understandable. There are 4 billion photographs on Flickr, and for the most part they are pretty shitty. If you browse the Explore feature of Flickr, you’ll see photo after photo of HDR scenes, flowers, stupid shots with lots of “bokeh”, and other stupidness. I wasn’t sure what you would call this aesthetic till I read the following: the main thing that makes Flickr unattractive is that it is dominated by ad-educated aesthetic, by which I mean, sleek, surface-based, and impressionable with little beyond that point. In case you get the wrong idea, hyperallergic labs is a fan of Flickr. He goes on to say, “I am an art critic in NY and I use Flickr ALL THE TIME, if I find something interesting, I write about it.”

I’ve seen Flickr come up in two discussions on other photography sites recently. Burn Magazine published a photo essay edited by Rafal Pruszynski featuring photographs came from the Flickr group La Familia Abrazada. The group consists of family and vernacular photography. The photographs are usually pretty damn good. Some of the contributors to Burn Magazine and the regulars who comment at the site were offended a set of images from Flickr were featured on Burn. Flickr is for your mom and douche-bags with 5Ds, while Burn is for serious-ass photographers pursuing their art! Things were fairly obnoxious and heated in one of Burn’s forum threads. The discussion is a bit disappointing because it seems to focus on where the photographs came from rather than the photographs themselves.

A few days later Jorg Colberg wrote a follow up to a piece by Jin from Shooting Wife Open. Colberg’s article, particularly its conclusion, offended Bryan Formhals of La Pura Vida, who responded himself. This sparks some discussion on Flickr itself at HCSP. Colberg posts yet again, complaining that people on the Internet don’t know how to debate, and are jerk-asses. Perhaps. I think the thing that riles people up with Colberg’s initial post is that it’s incredibly dismissive. He seems to argue that Flickr is useful for finding photos you can use to make real art out of. And that’s it. He completely glosses over the fact there is real talent on Flickr itself. I would argue that not appreciating the Behemoth that is Flickr suggests you’re a bit out of touch.

So as I said at the start of this post, there are 4 billion fucking photos on Flickr. It is the height of arrogance to suggest in that mess of images there aren’t a substantial number of incredible photos. It’s probably not unreasonable at all to argue there are more absolutely incredible photos on Flickr than there are anywhere else on the Internet. I’m not going to argue that though, I wouldn’t know where to start.



  1. I don’t understand why people make a fuss over what sort of photos people put up on flickr. If you go their about page they make no mention of trying to be a site full of of only the most awesome photos.

    I post photos in giant batches on flickr because it is a nice place to share photos. I definitely make no intention of picking and choosing what to upload.

  2. Bryan has posted another follow-up, well worth reading. This point in particular is spot on:

    “Why should anyone bother trying to engage with Flickr?” This is like saying, how do you engage with ‘Twitter’ or ‘Tumblr’ or ‘Wordpress.’ You engage with the communities that use these platforms. And here is the problem and why people who use these platforms tend to get a bit agitated. You are lumping everyone who uses them into one group, calling it ‘Flickr’ or someone who uses it a ‘Flickrite.’

  3. I think there’s a wider picture also that the artsy killjoys forget. Flickr encourages lots of people who wouldn’t normally do so to take photos, share them and (maybe) continually try and improve. It also means that the whole photographic industry receives a lot more attention and money than it otherwise would.

    More developed photographic industries and a larger receptive market have the nice benefit of allowing smaller artsy niches to thrive where they would’ve otherwise died/struggled (I guess you could put rangefinder cameras or kodak ektar in this group).

    Basically, flickr is good for everyone, even if you can’t stand to use it.

  4. That’s very true. Certainly Canon and Nikon must be happy to see so many regular-ass people buying DSLRs now. And I know plenty of people who have moved from digital to film recently, rather than going in the other direction.

  5. Facebook gets two billion photos a month? Holy shit!

  6. I had heard that before. That’s more than a little scary. I wonder what sort of crazy infrastructure they have in place to support all of that.

  7. A follow-up from Jin, from Shooting Wide Open.

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