After winding down this hyper-geeky and über-uncool (yet embarrassingly satisfying) "Month of Photography" that crested with Photolucida and the Society for Photographic Education national conference, I thought it was time to flee the images of the trained and calculated photographers for something fresher and more immediate.
I was somewhat familiar with Flickr.com--the boomingly popular photo-sharing web phenomenon--and thought that a look at its mammoth repository of catalogued, amateur photographs would be an appropriate way to end the month. After spending some time going through a fraction of the 5.5 million photographs on the database, I came to one conclusion--Flickr Sux!
One of the main objectives of the young website is "to make the process of organizing photos collaborative." Members (who can register for free) post their snapshots--an ungodly number of which come from camera phones--online into virtual albums that are open to the public. The magic of Flickr lies in the "tag"; each image is categorized by subject matter, and viewers can also browse by topics both mundane and arcane. Girls Eating Sandwiches is a humorous album started locally, but a glance at the other 100 most popular albums yields stiflingly lame results: baby, 2004, flowers, party, people.
To use a more popular metaphor, I think not of the general suckiness of TV award shows, but of one whose appeal I can't begin to fathom--the People's Choice Awards. Call me an elitist, or at least an anti-populist, but majority consensus always favors the least daring, middle-of-the-road option. I'd prefer to see (in theory, anyway), the Critic's Choice Awards (for obvious reasons), and after that the Oscars, where honors are bestowed from a peer community. When everybody participates, mediocrity spreads like a virus.
There are some marginally interesting tags and photos on Flickr, and somebody could conceivably curate a charming show of amateur photographs from the site. But that very idea is completely un-Flickr. Flickr dictates that everyone get the same amount of playing time, that no images are more worthy of viewing than others. Glimmers of brilliance are lost in a sea of mediocrity. Learning to Love You More succeeds because it attracts creative people; Found Magazine succeeds because it carefully chooses its selections; the best blogs about photography succeed because they highlight interesting work. And Flickr succeeds because… everybody gets to participate? The only things flickering here are my eyelids as I slip into deep REM sleep.