As the sidebar of this blog indicates, I upload my photos to Flickr. Photography is a hobby of mine. I’m getting better at it, but I’d never claim to be more than moderately competent.
However, one of the things that has surprised me since I joined Flickr in 2005 is the number of educational institutions, publishers, news agencies and other bodies (e.g an amateur choir releasing a CD) who’ve approached me seeking permission to use one of my photos for a book or pamphlet or website.
I’ve made all of my photos available under a Creative Commons license and, in nearly all cases, I’m glad to give the photo away free of charge.
Because I make pretty heavy use of images in teaching, I’m acutely aware of how difficult it is to lay hands on rights-free photos. In fact, that’s why I got interested in photography in the first place: I was trying to build up my own library of teaching images.
On the other hand, it has only gradually dawned on me that with the advent of the internet, my hobby might be doing someone else out of business. Even if my photographs are just ok, an institution might prefer to use them simply because they’re available free-of-charge. The photographic agency or the the photographer are thus done out of payment for their superior but relatively costly work.
And so it comes to pass that we have the Union des Photographes Créateurs and a couple of other photographic bodies launching an e-petition calling on the French government to help them “Save Photography!”
They urge legislation to address the “banalisation” of photography that has occurred as a result of photographic sites like Flickr and the Creative Commons license.
But, honestly, what do they expect the French Government – let alone governments acting in concert – to do?
Like all creative professionals they’re confronting the intractable problem of the last two decades: how do we remunerate those who seek to live by their creativity in an age of mass-publication?
Another question the petition leaves (genuinely) begging is whether “banalisation” is the inevitable result of digital Maoism and the cult of the amateur.
Are professional journalists necessary in the age of the “citizen blogger.”? I hope so.
Are university lecturers necessary in an age of online, distance education? I bloody well hope so, though I must admit I’m beginning to feel the occasional pang of anxiety.
But is banalisation the inevitable result of mass-photography? Looking at some of the magnificent work available on Flickr, I’m not sure.
All the same, I do feel guilty if my photographic dilettantism is doing someone really talented out of a job.