wild internets oceans and wild water(marks) rapids

below the classic arguments in an internet forum of Canon vs Nikon, or PC vs Mac, it can be said that the use of watermarks on photos is well-placed. not too distant from watermarks is the way that photo-hosting social sites should do for photographers — for example: An Open Letter to Vic Gundotra and Google+ [link]. these two topics are related in terms the attitudes and goals that people have.

from long ago, it was a comment on a flickr group that I read how people would join a group and then ask that rules be changed according to their prerogative. this was insightful: flickr has it that anyone can start their own group with the rules as one sees fit, but of course, this does not satisfy the underlying need, quite possibly generalized as:

" I want to share my photos here because there is a large audience, but I want it to be comfortable to the way I think they should be shared (or things ought to be). "
— not said by anyone in particular, or literally

it is not unreasonable for people to provide feedback to sites on features, and perhaps even on the underlying behaviour possible. this takes on a greater aura by sites that depend on users to provide content, and there is something to be balanced there. however, it is always a site's decision based on their entire user-base and their assessment of users gain/lost.

the most absurd request is to prevent users from downloading a photo. well, it is the fundamental workings of the internet that the photo has to be downloaded in order for anyone to see it. these days, with bigger-is-better, sites are encouraging to upload big-sized photos. yet, the controls demanded by content-providers to popular sites can include such requests.

the consequence of this lack of control is that some people will watermark their photos. like all things internet with photography, the dials are set to "11" and watermarks can be rather intrusive when looking at a photo. this brings a backlash from photograph viewers whose enjoyments is being disturbed, or for whom watermarks signifies a misunderstanding of creative work and sharing. parallels are then drawn to many uses of art, and forum discussions get lively.

I do watermark my photos**, but not as a deterrent against people grabbing the photo and re-uploading elsewhere. my consideration is that most people are lazy and will not remove the watermark. then, the watermark is a "message in a bottle", for the rather rare chance that someone wants to look up the photo creator and then is able to track me down.

since my uploaded photos are not going to pop-up in some stream of gorgeous photographs with a sudden disturbance to the viewer of my photo with a watermark, but rather, it will be that they see a page with only my photos on display, they can easily click away if so shocked/disturbed/annoyed. alternatively, a photo print without a watermark can be ordered.

as for sites? instead of demanding so much care for one's photos, just view the internet as an ocean and the photo as a bottle tossed into it, and the watermark is the note inside. however, we can create the bottle: make it 800 pixels and use the JPG compression as severe as possible... and then it is gone forever. it is the gift to the internet.

changes to a site are a bucket of water tossed to the ocean. companies and teams that create the sites are well aware of how the internet works, how the users behave, and what draws the users to the site. the onus is on the user, and potential content-provider, to determine if the site is for them, and not to request that the site changes for their perception of fairness.

[ link ] public post on facebook to comment within facebook

** an exception is VSCO Grid, since the uploading to the Grid is directly from the app, and the extra steps of watermarking is something that is not worth doing given the controls VSCO provides against the casual image downloader: screen caps is the easy thing to do.

a website for photographers: what does it take?

a few days ago there was flickr's 10th anniversary, and the site has made quite a splash — good and bad — with their recent changes.

granted, flickr was not designed for photographers. rather, it was designed as a web-based shoebox. to this day, it serves that purpose with very few glitches, more so at present when one Terabyte of storage is allowed for free. 

however, people have a knack to cast websites into their own needs. likely with the advent of the democratization of photography — thanks to digital cameras, and the boom of the internet to a wider audience — flickr was able to serve as the gathering place for people that wanted to pursue photography beyond a shoebox holder.

unfortunately, flickr would break at the seams. the site never really pursued a photo-centric presentation of one's work:

  1. photos were cropped to a square thumbnail at the center without user selection.
  2. an emphasis on meaningless statistics, such as views/faves.
  3. a one-solution-to-all approach to explore the site via Explore page.
  4. dormant development/update of groups, which still has a late-90s functionality.

some of these failures are easy to fix, but others may require a site overhaul. one of the great difficulties with users appropriating the site to their needs was the high-levels of confusion that was created. for example, Explore is not a sort of critical/curated selection, but rather a social-metrics based photo selection that does not have a correlation to merit. but this confusion generated so many of the site's ills. elsewhere, groups such as the (infamous) Help Forum and Flickr Central gave the impression of official involvement, with users being confused for employees. more recently, even in the rollout of major changes, there was a failure to explain these changes. most sites make a short video to explain the changes/clicks and how the functions being rolled out work into a vision. instead, the site's changes had some good (bigger images, no more thumbnails), and great failings: no cohesive design, but one (seemingly) driven by ideas on coding prowess. it also showed that flickr was trying to follow the evolution taking place at other sites, rather than pursue a vision that was based on its years of experience.

for all of these failings, during the golden years, many photographers managed to learn in their own way and propel themselves within, and outside, of the internet. a number of groups, such as Utata, provided a sensible instigation to do more than take photos that were hoped to make it to Explore.

so then, in personally having been on the site since 2005, and active (uploading) through 2009**, what would be the features that would make for a good photography site? by this, I do not mean a we-are-all-artists site, but one that fosters the art of photography, and not a social site with photographs as its currency: the currency should be the pursuit of photography, not the photographs themselves. here are some notions:

forgo all metrics, but allow for some tracking features.

most sites these days provide means to use tools such as Google Analytics, and that should be useful to photographers, if they want it. if the photo pages gets a lot of views from a website that may have, without permission/attribution, linked to the photo, then it is good to be alerted. views and faves counts are useless because of their unreliability, and lack of control (e.g., people are not at the site at all hours, it is the nature of a global base).

remove the contests/competition

the idea of a ranking algorithm in photography is antithetical to the pursuit of photography, and drives an unhealthy pursuit for attention. it is rather clear that this is also what drives traffic/users to a site, and it is an easy temptation to make a site profitable.

devise a site-exploring algorithm

with the hype over big data, one of its perfect uses is to tailor the site's exploring for a given user. on flickr, there was the Greasemonkey script that would show one's contacts faves. provided one would add contacts on the merits of their photographs, rather an a social passive-aggressive duty, then the script offers a superior result to a socio-metrics based algorithm.

be big and small

a big site is great for exploring its photos, but useless for promoting one's photography needs: one is overwhelmed if not lost (e.g., 500px's lack of groups). a structure for groups and discussion is essential to the site, and rather than anarchy (as in flickr), something grows with time. in this instance, lessons learned from many discussion-based sites can be adopted.

love the comments, hate the comments

the user must be given control over comments on the a photo page. many comments are vapid ("Great Capture!"), others are passive-aggressive cut-and-paste useless words with links to their pages. Instagram and 500px have taken measures towards this problem, while flickr still allows HTML tags to be part of comments. in some ways, the user has to be fearless in "curating" the comments on a photo page.


on the one end there is the fiasco of MySpace customization, and on another, there is the unwelcome rigidity from flickr. yet, Tumblr thrives relatively well. a site can control the templates and their customization features, and with time allow for users to apply their CSS talents to make further template designs.

precise site management groups

while it is very unlikely that flickr's programmers designed the site, the impression gathered is that of an absent design team: any sort of integrated aesthetics are absent, and instead it is about what can be done with today's software, and what other sites are doing. it is imperative that the user experience be given the utmost effort towards a sensible design and functionality. 


as part of the process to learn photography, one must be able to pursue the means to curate series of photographs. flickr has provided this functionality through their Gallery pages, though it has to be made possible to energize them and make them points of interaction and discussion. a greater power for its use would require access to photos outside the site, and this is a harder problem to solve. presently, Tumblr offer such an opportunity, while an integrated functionality to a site offers greater potential.

in general terms, the new site developers would have to overcome the hi-tech malaise of "flickr killer" mentality. even for less photographic-centric sites, this thinking requires a replication of flickr-features, which may not be of service towards a successful site.

in closing, the design of a site such as this requires quite a bit of algorithmic and social know-how that builds on the usage of the sites developed so far. there is also a major problem to solve about the financial success of such a site. ideally, the site should have a sizeable functionality be free, with some customization at a fee. yet, it is unclear if a "free+" site could survive financially. further, the structure of how to balance user feedback and the "lynch mob" activity that besieges the Help Forum on flickr has to be avoided. also, users cannot be confused for the site's staff. this is not to imply that a group can be structured, clearly, that it is a user-based to assist with questions.

the simplest question, once all the ideas are in place: is there a need for such a site?

[ link ] comments can be made on facebook post

** I was encouraged by the changes rolled out on May 2013, but the execution was extremely flawed, and soon after beginning some uploading frenzy, it had to stop.

hell is other people: how photography can be difficult for a photographer

the current internet boom and the way that it is being carved — like apps and micro social networks — still leaves a general trend with insidious persistency: the democratization of certain art forms, and the talents that are lost.

the starting premise has to be that at any time, true talent is rare. this notion would not have been difficult to accept a few decades ago, and could have eroded with time, and now fully distorted under the bubbles of the internet. however, if thirty years ago it was easy to accept that 3.17% of the population was talented at photography, then nothing has changed to increase that rarity. there is no technology that can (arguably) affect an innate talent. yes, technology has increased the number of people that can be competent at a craft, but that is not the same as being... well, creative within that craft. « Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere » said Albert Einstein, and in creativity, we are looking for the (rare) presence of imagination. at the same time, we can welcome the increase availability of the "logician" that can execute the craft.

a casual perusal of social networks demonstrates that there is a given currency within a site to draw attention. in the case of photography, we can point to flickr, Instagram or 500px as sites where a photograph is the social currency for attention. in some instances, the photograph is not a means to pursue art, and in other cases, the originator does pursue a form of art to be validated by the social interaction. unlike "old media", there is no curator to filter the art. this can be viewed as a freedom gained by the internet, but Andrew Keen argues otherwise [ link to YouTube interview]:

« ... problem with democratization: it's so soft, so ordinary, so lacking in innovation, so unshocking. [...] so the democratization ethos of the internet is of ordinariness... of boredom... of garbage... of shit. »
Andrew Keen

and in this context, Moby expands with [ link to YouTube interview ] the insidious democracy offered by the internet :

« sacrificing rare creativity that has depth for ubiquitous creativity that's very shallow »

in no instance do they offer a solution, and a solution would not be easy to forment, as in the assertion from Andrew Keen that we need the curator of the pre-internet age. and thus, for the photographer with a talent that could have been brought to prominence in the old system, it is now to be lost in a sea of shit.

Jörg M. Colberg offers the following modification on a Thomas Mann quote about writers:

« a photographer is a person for whom photographing is more difficult than it is for other people »

in which it means to Mr. Colberg that: « Photographers, stop whining about Instagram or the "flood of images." It's hard to be a photographer not because of any of that. It's because what it means being a photographer. » and there is a point to this: a photographer should be so busy with their quest and fostering of their rare talent, that what happens on the internet should not play into their concern with their pursuit.

while the quote is quite fundamental to the pursuits of a photographer, there is the problem for those people that pursue photography as profession to highlight their talent: there is a sea of shit still happening, with a complacent/vapid mass which lends credence to the idea that likes/faves/followers correlate with talent.

thus, we are still left with Jean-Paul Sartre's notion that "hell is other people." or should we modify it too for the photographer world?

personally, I am lucky to be in a position where photography is a tool for an inner quest, which does not rely on the externals of the past — seeking representation — or the present: navigating a vapid sea of complacency and quid pro quo magnification via passive-aggressiveness "social actions." however, this trend is one that piques my interest as many other ways that the masses trivialize what is good photography to maximize the inclusion of a greater number of people under some misperception that there is more talent available under the guises of technological advances.

"pontificators of grandeur**" are relegated to blogging, or curating, but with a lesser effect due to a "tl;dr" audience that processes too much information. on the other hand, there does not seem to be a means to coalesce those people that can educate, and properly curate bodies of work, to offer a new means of utilizing the internet to sustain the discovery of talent within photography. instead, there are the bubbles of the "internet photography" and the "gallery photographer." the latter seem to use the internet solely as a means of advertising, rather than a tool to further the foundations of its pursuits.

** this label came to mind in a snark-reply to one of the famous internet "photographers", and I am still fond of the term: it is endearing in some ways.

[ link ] a nice discussion has happened on this article on facebook (public post)