Category Archives: Photography

Community, Content and Commodity

I remeber being nervous and stingy and naive when I first joined Flickr nearly five years ago on February 3rd 2007. I knew little about networks or online sharing or photography or copy right or Creative Commons, or much of anything. I was, believe it or not, more self-obsessed than I am even now, and I felt that my ideas and my work and my photos were more valuable than they were. I had at the time sold a few photos at some coffee shop, and I remeber thinking, if I post them online then anyone can take them and do whatever they want with them. I contemplated watermarks and other such silly things.

I am not sure what changed my thinking, but the shift was simple: I understood that the photos, like much of my work would be more valuable, would reach a wider audience, would have a richer life if they did not belong to me, and were set free–so to speak–to roam the Internet. Perhaps, through osmosis or early contact I began to understand and appreciate the concept of the commons.

I don’t think my work is anything special. I do not want to own it. I am not interested in commercial gains from what I share online. I have a salary. I am a teacher. Everything else is who I am online. I share my work, because it brings me in contact with amazing human beings and ideas. So since that day in 2007, I have posted nearly 2000 photos on Flickr. I have since learned about Creative Commons and licensing. It’s pretty straight forward:

You are free:
to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
to Remix — to adapt the work

Under the following conditions:
Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor
Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

In short, it’s yours. Use it, do what you like with it, just don’t make money off of it, and please let people know where it came from. As simple as that sounds, Facebook and Instagram’s new terms of service are quite different. Sounds more like this:

We will use what we want, in order to make money for our selves and we won’t tell anyone where the images come from especially now you.

I have had a love/hate relationship (haven’t we all) for years now. I have written at length about the many times I have deleted my account. If reading pages and pages of ripes and excuses about Facebook is not your thing, here it is in short form:

I don’t like how sneaky Facebook is about the content I produce or what they might do with it. I don’t trust them. Who cares? You might be asking. Didn’t I just say that I am no longer attached to my work? The issue here is not the content per se, but the comodification of our communities, of our lives, of our experiences beyond our control.

I thought I had solved my Facebook problem. I decided to simply post updates to stay in touch with friends and family and never post any content. This was great especially when a young start-up names Instagram came to the neighborhood. Sure she was vague about ownership and licensing too, but she was sleek and sexy and look at all those filters! I could post my pics on Instagram and cross post to Facebook, without FB getting their hands on my content. Or so it seemed.

What was even better was the dynamic and organic community that was forming around photos on Instagram. It was perfect. I loved it. Until Facebook bought up my “favorite place online.” Like most people,  I knew they would ruin it, and it was only a matter of time. There are already countless articles about What Instagram’s New Terms of Service Mean for You and Facebook’s Extensive Network of Worldwide Affiliates, but here is the heart of the matter:

You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.


We will use what we want, in order to make money for our selves and we won’t tell anyone where the images come from especially now you.

Now that doesn’t sound very nice. That doesn’t sound at all like the things I was saying at the top of this post. So… I am deleting my Instagram account, not because I am afraid the pictures I take of clouds and my dinner will end up in some commercial, but because I just don’t like how Facebook does business. I don’t want people doing business with what I love, with what I create and share openly. I invest a lot of time and energy and love into these communities. They are valuable to me and I hope to others, but it is clear that our communities are also valuable to companies like Facebook. They want to know where we eat, what we do, what we like etc… I for one am choosing not to give it to them for free.

The Internet and the communities we build on? In? Through it, belong to us, and we should be able to choose how and where they are shared and on what terms. For me, at this time Flickr and Creative Commons are the best choice. They have both been around, relatively unchanged for a while. I like that I pay for Flickr. When services are “free” they are most likely bleeding you dry from some place you might not see. I will pay my yearly $24.95 and I will use the beautiful new Flickr App to try and rebuild my community where I started.

As a tool it is not perfect. It is a bit slow and not as comfortable as Instgram, but isn’t change why we are all in this game? To be adaptable and fluid?

I know that it is scary to leave a community you have built and in which you feel comfortable. That is what Facebook is banking on. That you won’t leave, but if a community is valuable and truly connected, it should be connected beyond a single app or tool. Thee more time I spend online, the more I see that we cannot, should not invest too many of our eggs in single baskets. Especially the one basket that seems to be buying all the other baskets.

I know I will miss certain people and events and expereinces being away from Instagram, but hopefully the people I care about will find me and who knows I may meet someone new. What are you waiting for? Are you leaving too? Do you have similar reasons? Better ones? Are you staying? Am I over reacting? Let’s turn the comments into a dynamic conversation about community, content and commodity.


Giddy Enthusiasm

Sometimes things are happening in your class that keep you excited at all hours of the day. You see kids fully engaged during class time, and BIG AND- they are participating in an ongoing month long project outside of class as well. You watch as pieces of this project come trickling in at all ours of the night, on weekends, during other classes. You know you are not meddling and teaching too much; you can feel your scaffold strengthening as the students produce content that exceeds what you thought they were capable of.

I am engulfed in such a unit! It is wonderful. It has little to do with tech really, but the tech knowledge, skills and tools we have in place are making everything run smoothly. When people ask me how I use technology in my classroom, I am always a bit stumped. I use it the same way I do in my everyday life- to gather, create, share, capture life around me with a community of people.

In grades six, seven and ten we are in the middle of a viewing text unit. Grade six is watching How To Train Your Dragon, grade seven is watching E.T. and grade ten is watching The Wall. We began by discussing the idea of reading a film.  After deconstructing each respective film, we looked at various types of shots. Last week we moved onto looking at scenes as shots and students have begun to create their own 8-12 minute films.

It was at this point when I realized that we needed a quick detour into photography. I wanted the kids to realize the similarities between basic photography concepts and film making. After a quick lesson on how to take Great Shots, we began our Daily Shoot! This experience is what has me so excited. Over the weekend I was in Hong Kong for a conference, but I was thrilled to see at least 80% of my students participating in the exercise. They would go to this page, find the prompt, take their pic and post (with tags and titles) to their appropriate page.

Some highlights:

I am hoping that they will see that shots like these will make great openings to their video scenes. We have already discussed music and camera movement to heighten suspense and creating mood.

The Posterous gallery has been great as it teaches them how to sort and tag their pics, and it allows everyone to see what everyone else is doing.

Giddy is the best word to describe how I feel about this unit so far. Giddy and proud and excited and …..well seems like there are many words. But, what does the tech look like? How can I teach other teachers to do this? Not sure. We are using iMovie, Keynote, Posterous, cameras, blogs. We are filming, shootings, tagging, writing, drawing. It is hard to know where the tech starts or stops. It is hard to know if this is Art, English, or Film. We are simply caught up in a storm of creating. Unaware of where we will end up, we use whatever tools we need, we learn skills as they become necessary and hopefully we will have some pretty amazing films to share, but if not…if the films are only mediocre, we already know we have learned so much. And that is all that really counts.


Stain What You Find

Last time I did this, some amazing things occurred. It was January 31st, 2011 and I had just finished my first 31 days of a 365 Daily Shoot- an exercise where you try to take a photograph everyday for a year.  I was following “assignments” from The Daily Shoot (a now defunct website) and was quite pleased with my pics. I shared a quick post on my blog about the fact that I had finished my first month.

A few days later, Zac Chase told me that he had shared my pics with one of his English classes. The next week resulted in a somersault of poetry and music across continents. You can read about the events here and here. If you didn’t read about this story last year, I recommend you take a few minutes and read through the posts and comments.  It was a truly inspirational week of cool free flowing organic events.

Which brings me to this post. January 31st! Last time I only made it 94 days and lost the thread. I was working with a DSLR l and now I am almost strictly working on my iPhone. I have sworn that this year will be different. I will do my best to make it all 365…sorry 366 days of 2012.

Take a look at the shots and meet me on the other side for a little reflection on the process of daily photography in general and this batch in particular.

Is it obvious that is has been raining here in Jakarta. The images do not lie. It has been grey and wet this January. But as you can see the days are highlighted with color and light as well. Once more, I am in love with this batch of photos. I wish I had time to take a few of the photos and expand them into a more auditory experience. I invite you to take these photos and add your meaning and experience to them, as Zac’s class did last year. Let’s see if anything comes of them this time around.

The Process:

We do not tell stories through images. The images tell our stories on their own. When collected and batched and examined,  we can see patterns and narratives of our lives which we usually pass us by when we are busy with the act of actually living.  By documenting at least one photograph everyday, we can look back and notice the thread of who we were by what we saw and what we chose to capture.

In addition to the dissection of our lives after the fact, taking a daily photograph has helped me look more closely at my life as I am living it. Take today for example. It was nearly 3:00 pm and I realized that I hadn’t looked closely enough at my day as it was passing me by. I took a break from rubric writing and forced myself out into our campus. I strolled about simply looking. Examining and looking for something interesting, something beautiful to capture. Here is what I found:

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Intrepid Flame

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Intrepid Flame

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Intrepid Flame

I was thinking about starting some kind of daily photo assignment with my students. I think they will find value in being able to document their lives in Flickr sets. They will appreciate the downtime to wander around campus learning how to “look” at the world. Need to think more about this. Any ideas? What to do something collaborative?

If you are not trying a dailyshoot I highly recommend giving it a try. I thought that not having the structure of The Daily Shoot would prove challenging, but I am enjoying he freedom to snap at will and sort through what I have for the pic at the end of the day. In other news, I have been trying to keep an eye on The Daily Create over at DS106.

Creativity is not some romantic magical muse that only a few people can access. Creativity is the ability to fully immerse yourself in the essence of life and stain what you find with pieces of your self. The only thing you need to do to be creative is to be alive. Open yourself up to experimentation and see what happens. It may feel silly or not important, but only when you say yes can to every shot will you find the spark you need.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Intrepid Flame


Images Tell Stories

I am on an image kick lately, but here is what happened in my class today. It was powerful:

The grade sevens have been doing some research about Afghanistan for our upcoming book, Boy Overboard. We spoke in class today about the power of imagery to tell a story. We spoke about how giving a Pecha Kucha is not about delivering information, like a traditional report about food, currency, and population, but rather we want to strike a chord, make the viewers feel something. It is about emotions and forcing the viewer to think.

Here is an example. One student insisted on showing a flag. He wanted to use this:

We talked about whether or not this image was alive. Or whether it inspired emotions, told a story. The answer was a resounding no!

We searched on Flickr for some CC images and found these:

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by United States Marine Corps Official Page

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Abhishek’s Photo Essays

One student still wanted to just add the words Afghanistan Flag as the text. We agreed that we could only have three words. I told him to do some research and find out what the colors in the flag mean. We found out that the black is for occupation by foreigners, the red for the blood of the freedom fighters, and the green for Islam. The student decided to simply add the words Occupation, Blood, Islam.

We talked a bit about design, colors, and composition and came up with this:

I think this tells a much more interesting story than this:

Now we will work on what we will say for twenty seconds over the slide!