While cleaning up my apartment in New Jersey recently, I came across an old cracked black and white photograph of my mother and father, shortly after they were married in Dublin. The photo got me thinking about my own passion for photography.
I love photography but in particular I love my own photographs. I am an amateur photographer who wants to be a professional. I am unique in that respect!
Before digital cameras, amateur photographers like me were limited to film and its associated costs. Before photo sharing websites like Flickr, an amateur photographer had limited exposure; mostly family and friends.
However, today, thanks to the digital cameras and web sharing software like Flickr, I can take as many photographs as I like and expose myself (figuratively) to the whole world. Flickr acts like a collective reservoir for photographers who want to share their photography with the world.
I began posting my photographs to Flickr after I bought my first digital camera, a Canon Rebel XT, five years ago. I became a compulsive shutterbug ever since. Some people are Facebook fans, others are besotted by MySpace – I am fascinated by Flickr. I took thousands of photographs over the years and uploaded the best of the best to my Flickr webpage - 20Major. To date, I have posted 466 photos to my Flickr account. Over the years, I photographed everything from celebrities to clowns; fires and family.
At night, I spend hours looking at my own photographs on Flickr. I watch them drift by in a slideshow one by one, as black and white turns to color. It’s like watching a documentary of my life slide by, one photo at a time – photo - pause - photo again.
Despite the fact that I like looking at my own photographs, I get an even bigger kick when anonymous Flickr users, with handles like C-U-B-B-I-E and ‘snapdragon,’ view my photographs.
Each visitor to my Flickr page registers as a hit. I have over 700 hits. I especially like when they comment on a photograph. An anonymous comment from complete stranger is like anonymous sex with a complete stranger, not exactly ideal but satisfying all the same. I monitor my Flickr account like a doctor monitors a patient’s cardiogram. I am constantly on the look out for spikes in my digital counter. When I see that counter rise, it’s like a shot of caffeine in the morning.
Not surprisingly, celebrity photos attract the most attention. I have a photograph of the actress, Cobie Smulders, from the CBS sitcom, ‘How I Met Your Mother’ that attracted over 361 hits. Fourteen Flickr photographers choose my photographs as their so called ‘favorite.’ One visitor described a photograph of my niece and her father as – ‘brilliant.’ Another called a photograph of a trapeze artist as ‘great’. It is euphemisms like these that keep me going.
My colorful, digitally enhanced photographs are not my mother’s photographs. Photographs were personal for my mother - a repository of family memories.
Despite all my protestations, photographs are a commodity to me. They are an entertaining distraction at best. My mum’s photographs weren’t disposable like the digital photos of today – delete and they’re gone. Every photograph my mum took captured a memory. They marked moments in time, as opposed to my photographs which mark a waste of time!!! Mum’s photographs were a barometer of the family fortunes, with all its ups and downs. In the beginning, mum took black and white photographs with a Brownie and ended up taking uneven color photographs with a Polaroid Classic.
I saw myself grow from a black and white baby to a colorful teenager with long hair. In the beginning, my mum took cheesy family photos – photographs arranged in order of height or birthday. I remember mum would wait expectantly on the film which took a week to process at a camera shop. Then, along came the ‘Polaroid Instant’ camera with its promise of immediate gratification, and soon the house was full of square color photographs with large white borders.
My mother passed on some time ago, but hundreds of her family photographs sit in an old biscuit tin in the garage of my childhood home in Dublin. The biscuit tin contains a treasure trove of family history; everything from my parents black and white wedding, to the last color photographs of my mum with her grandchildren.
My mom was no Martha Stewart. She didn’t feel the need to put the photographs in albums or create collages. The tin box was fine. When I was growing up, I would catch a glimpse of my melancholic mother smiling to herself, as she went through her tin box of photographs late at night. I wonder what she would have made of sharing photographs on Flickr. My guess is she would rather keep her memories to herself, in a biscuit tin.