Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Creative Expression and Sycophancy
I read somewhere the other day that photosharing sites like Flickr and Picasa spell the death knell of professional photography. And, as a friend said, “Well, with digital Joe Soap can now take a thousand photos to get the one perfect shot.” Given that I’ve always shot off an entire roll of film in search of the one perfect shot, digital is right up my street. And it must be said, there is some stunning photography on the photo sites - and I really would urge you to go and take a mooch around if you want to indulge in some sheer beauty and creativity for a while. You can see from the photographs that people really have a passion for their hobby and many in fact turn it into a true art form or into way of earning an income by sending work to stock photography and greeting card companies.
But as much as there is all this great photography out there, there is also another phenomenon…
I’ve spoken before about the sycophancy that exists in and around the social web and many others have also commented it – and a good number of arguments have arisen. But if one thought it could get bad in blogosphere, you should see it in action on a site like Flickr. (Note, I'm using Flickr as an example because it's the site with which I'm most familiar but there are several photosharing sites out there like Webshots, Dropshots, Photobucket and, as I've already mentioned, Picasa.)
I signed up to Flickr as I wanted a place to post and store my pics without cluttering up my blog, but having been there for a while now I’ve noticed this other phenomenon. As with blogs there is a comments feature. There is also an awards feature. And this is where the madness really starts. Now while I’m all for a bit of fun, reciprocity and mutual admiration, I’m less keen on rank insanity and rampant sycophancy. And boy is there some rampant sycophancy on Flickr.
It seems one of the aims of some people is to rack up as many comments and awards as possible. To gain or give an award you have to join one of the gazillion photographic groups on Flickr. Could be nature photography, macro photography, animal photography, flower photography, blue ribbon, platinum, gold star, envy of, my winner etc photography. There are more groups out there than is imaginable. And for every award given and received, the receiver, if posting the awarded shot to said group is generally obliged to comment on or provide an additional award to others in the group. So it’s a case of someone was nice to me, now I’ll be nice to you. Kind of a play it forward thing. The trouble is it can get totally out of hand. And if you've been given several awards it can take hours doddling from group to group dispensing complimentary largesse.
Take the case of Nameless Wonder. Frankly, I’m convinced Nameless Wonder must be running a social experiment in sycophancy and self gratitude. Nameless appears to visit numerous people where Nameless leaves a string of awards. (For the life of me I can't work out how Nameless chooses which photo to praise because it seems quite arbitrary.) Needless to say, one then feels obliged to return the favour and post an award or two on Nameless’s photos. But here’s the thing. Nameless’s photos are “ornery” at best. Yet, Nameless, because of the award “generosity” shown to others garners bundles of awards on the odd photo which is posted every now and then. I cannot for the life of me believe that the awards are given with any degree of sincerity because the photos simply don’t merit it. It is all, I’m sure, about “you scratched my back so now I’d better scratch yours" with the subtext, "because (ultimately) I want more backscratching from you”. It opens up an interesting psychological debate (which could be the subject of a whole post) about the neediness and desire for self gratification to which we seem so inclined.
The other instance is Nameless Wonder 2. This Wonder has over two and half thousand contacts. Can one actually keep track of so many people? He is a member of more groups than I can count. His approach seems to be as follows: You see a photo of his which you genuinely like. You leave a comment complimenting the work and maybe bestow an award. Next thing you know, you’re one of his contacts and so the mutual admiration society is expected to develop.
Frankly, I just can’t be doing with it. As much as I enjoy photography, I don’t do it to gain the approval or admiration of others. I do it because I love it. I post my work to Flickr not because I want kudos but because it’s a place to store some of my better work (i.e. it’s a good backup system) and where my friends can, should they so wish, see what I’ve been up to. It also provides those who don’t know South Africa in its multiple facets with a chance to take a peek.
Creative expression is one of the greatest gifts given to us and there is some truly stunning work out there that deserves praise, but honestly, this insane butt-licking that goes on, well, erm, it’s actually just a bit too egocentrically icky.