In early 2006 my buddy Steve Miller urged me to join Flickr, one of several online repositories for sharing photographs. One reason was that he was putting some of his photos there, and given my activity years ago as a very serious photographer, thought I would be interested more generally as well.
Of course he was right about that. That was in March.
In addition, I still have a collection of my much more serious ("art") photographic work from the 60s and 70s, the large majority in the form of monochrome prints -- mostly 11x14" -- mounted on 16x20" boards. Then there are the negatives, easily 50,000 of them, from which these and other prints were made. Plus photograms, sheet films, paper negatives, etc, etc. Not least, many thousands of 35mm color transparencies.
Though I own an early Epson digital camera (640x480 px), it was cumbersome to use and ate batteries at an astonishing rate. Worse, the photos were more or less worthlessly low-res.
I tend not to rush into things, especially when nontrivial amounts of money are involved. My film cameras have since 1970 been Nikons of various flavors, the newest of them the quite serviceable, nonprofessional N80. But it's fairly modern, with auto-focus, auto-exposure and many other useful features. Amazingly, a friend had simply given me two Sigma AF lenses for use on the N80. They serve pretty well for the more laid-back work I've done in recent times.
So it was clear there would have to be a decent digital camera. Waiting usually pays, in the sense that the techonology moves on and one generally ends up with more bang for the buck. The Nikon D200 made its debut to rave reviews, but at roughly $1600 for the body alone, it seemed a bit pricey for my purposes. I settled on a D70s, which arrived in due course (a birthday present to myself). One of its virtues is that I can use my existing lenses on it. It's now roughly 6,000 exposures later.
I was shooting a lot, spending enormous amounts of time processing the images, uploading them, giving them captions, telling little snippets of their stories and so forth. I also made a few trips to surrounding areas by car, weather permitting. Time for all this came from other things I didn't intend to neglect.
At the outset I was barely connected to or involved with Flickr culture, and apart from my friend Steve, I knew no one there. It wasn't long, however, until new connections formed. Flickr's structure promotes and supports communication and interconnection between members, by means of "contacts" and "groups". One can also "favorite" another person's picture and/or "comment" on a particular picture. In addition, most groups (there are thousands of them) have ongoing discussion sections.
I was seeing a lot of very fine photography in the work of others. And I was also seeing a lot of images that resulted not from the photographs per se but rather from brilliant manipulation of the source materials. And it was on account of this last that I got a bit disoriented.
It was rather like Alice falling down the well, an uncontrolled tumble into another world, landing in a place where strangeness was ordinary and balance seemed to be absent. I don't mean to imply that it was bad or negative, not at all. Only that it proved, after the initial fascination and exhileration, to be so permeated with emotional intensity and self-consciousness -- inevitable when great artistic gifts are involved, I suppose -- that I was frequently overwhelmed by worry, sadness, grief and tears.
I doubt that anyone who knows me would describe me as a delicate flower. True to my Taurus nature, I'm about as down-to-earth as it gets, well grounded in reality and common sense. I have a wide range of other interests, firmly engaged in the social, cultural and political life around me, and in those contexts I can rightfully claim to be resilient, even tough.
But as a musician, my emotional life is perforce intense, and immediately so. Therein, exactly, lay a problem with Flickrdom, for me: blown emotional fuses, so to speak. Over the long term, that level of intensity proves debilitating. Coupled with the mixed blessings of pronounced empathy and occasional Cassandra-like premonitions, the emotional substrate jittered and trembled. Not a lot, but enough to get my attention.
Furthermore, I really can't say for certain what part of my turmoil was about Flicktr per se or about other things in addition. It seems I've been unusually reactive emotionally in various contexts during the summer now ending. I guess I'll just leave it with the hope that things will resume a more tranquil course soon.
Mottoes to live by