Forget Stats give me a Story
I’ve given up on Flickr Explore. I used to take an interest, I used to value the images it threw up as the popular for that day but over time I have began to spot bizarre trends. Perhaps it is the strange dolls that give me the heebeegeebees or the fact that a photo of a police car can reach the top 500.
I am not saying every photo that is featured on flickr explore isn’t good, quite the contrary I have discovered the work of dozens of talented photographers through my daily walk through Explore via the brilliant flipboard app. The same applies for 500px, I publish an image and watch the excitement build as it reaches over 90% in their popularity algorithm.
Don’t get me wrong I am not slating Flickr or 500px, I love both sites I am just personally re-evaluating how I value statistically popular photos. One example is this snap from Focus on Imaging. The photo was published to show a few readers in the X100 flickr group that photos from the camera can be printed large and retain their quality.
The image was retained on Explore for a few days and then dropped as (thankfully) better images became more interesting.
I think fundamentally there is a grave error in valuing a photograph based on a statistic and I was hooked. The best images tell a story, there is a narrative that requires no explanation or documentation. This is one area of photography in which I really want to improve. I frequently try and try and capture the story but more often than not it doesn’t work. It is simply the essence of reportage photography that has to be developed and chasing statistics, likes, favourites or votes isn’t the way to improve.
I think what makes the best photos great is the number of people who are able to connect with the story. I have published photos that I ‘felt’ told a very obvious story but in hindsight realise many of the facts are missing from the image.
This random story on a street in Belfast is actually only meaningful if have visited the famous Merchant Hotel on a Saturday afternoon. The photo is out of context. It doesn’t have the introduction of the crowd who were waiting for the bride to be, it doesn’t capture the anticipation of the night ahead. From being there I have that experience and information and thus the connection has meaning.
The leading (top image) reportage photograph is another personal story. In July 2011 we made a visit to a forest walk in County Down. A moth flew past my youngest son who chased it excitedly. He had not idea of the delicacy of such an insect and in innocence made an attempt to catch it by clapping.
The image speaks for the conclusion of the moth but it doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t tell of his upset when he thought he had hurt the moth. It doesn’t mention that he wanted the photograph to remember the moth nor does it mention that a full year later on the same walk he remembered vividly the exact spot and went looking for “his moth” based on the fact I had convinced it was ‘only asleep’.
With all this additional information the photo has a value. So many of the photographs I capture will eventually reside on hard drives never to be recounted but some, a very small number have value and a reason to be captured, these are the photos with a story.
Back to my flickr and 500px accounts, in conclusion I really don’t think I am trying hard enough, the photos I publish on flickr and 500px meet a particularly low self set pass mark and the reason they are there is to feed some ill thought out desire for statistics. Will this photo make explore or pass my personal best score on 500px? I am embarrassed to have even published a post celebrating my 1000th flickr upload and started counting down the number of photos I needed to add to make 2000. Stats like the obsession with technology are a distraction to the craft.
I am not giving up on Flickr, I love it too much, it is a constant source of inspirationy but I am giving up on being a slave to stats. Ironically I don’t particularly even like the photos that the stats tell me are my best. See my Top 100 photos according to flickr. Actually many of favourites lie at the bottom of the rankings but these are the photos that over time their relevance and importance will grow.
The aim is to tell more stories and if that means publishing less that so-be-it. It echoes what I should have learned from Henri Cartier-Bresson I really should know better by now.
I think, even if the narrative of a photo is only understood by an audience of just three or four people it has more value than some perfectly executed image with spot on exposure and is sharp in all the right places? What do you think?