Oh the places Flickr goes

18 June 2007
8:31 PM


Once you put something on the Internet, you really can’t predict who will see it or what will happen to it. A year after I wrote about having LASIK surgery, a stranger emailed me to ask how it went. Parents who have children studying abroad in Chile write me every so often when they stumble across my site. Jast the other day I got an email from a woman who apparently read my account of making strawberry jam. She mentioned that there are many unique South American fruits that make for good jam and suggested that I look at recipes in her jam cookook. When you live on the Internet, the motley crew that knocks on your door is astonishing, and rather charming in its own way.

If that is true for what I write here on my small-time site, it is magnified by several orders of magnitude on Flickr, the photo-sharing site that receives nine bazillion times more traffic. I had been a Flickr member for just a couple months when a woman asked if she could use some of my Disney World photos in a book about scrapbooking Disney vacations. Then I got an email from a book publisher in Argentina asking if they could use my photo of an empty classroom in an English textbook. A few months ago a creative director wrote me from the Children’s Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian to ask about using my photo of a man riding a bicycle with his cow on a mural in their bronchoscopy ward. Even though I thought I understood the far reach of digital media online, I was still pretty flabbergasted by each request. How did these people select my pictures?

Just when I thought I couldn’t be more surprised—who would have thought I’d have my photo on a mural at a New York hospital?—it happened again. Last week another Flickr member, Mary Crawford, sent me a link to a set of her photos. When I was in Punta Arenas this past February, at the southern end of Chile, I visited the city’s famous cemetery. There I took a picture of an angel statue, which I posted on Flickr. Mary wrote to say that she liked my photo and that she had used it to make a stencil to spray paint a T-shirt. Wild, no? Here’s my original photo and her shirt:

Angel statue in Punta Arenas T-shirt with stenciled angel
The statue of an angel in the Punta Arenas cemetery and a shirt fashioned after it. There are other photos of the process from picture to shirt on Flickr. I didn’t get it, but the angel with the phonebooth is a reference to Dr. Who, a long-running science fiction program on British television.

When it comes to the Internet in general, and Flickr in particular, you never know the places you’ll go. And when you get there, you may have no idea how you did it.

A side note: some rights reserved

This kind of collaboration is made possible in part by Creative Commons. In many minds, the phrases “copyright” and “all rights reserved” are stuck together with superglue—you can’t see one without the other. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. I offer all my Flickr photos under a Creative Commons license with just “some rights reserved.” In my case that means that anyone can use my photos for anything non-commercial, provided that I receive credit. You don’t even have to tell me about it, although it might be nice. It seems like a reasonable, good-faith approach to copyright and digital media, in contrast with the ridiculous attitudes of the RIAA, MPAA, and related groups. With “all rights reserved,” it wouldn’t be legal for someone to put my photos in a textbook, on a mural, or on a T-shirt without my explicit permission. With “some rights reserved,” you can do all those things without so much as asking.


It doesn’t surprise me that people take interest in your photos. Your photos are awesome, especially considering you have a point and shoot and (unless you have PS on some computer I don’t know about) do no real post-processing. I am curious, how many views are you up to?

Ryan Brown

on June 19, 2007 3:51 PM

Not to be the one to insist that the glass is half empty, but it’s not only that everyone can see everything you put on the Internet, but also that anyone can see anything you put on the Internet, whether or not you intend them to. I guess it’s a lesson both ways…

I’m not surprised that a lot of people are using your photos either. You’ve got a great eye. And I also liked the discussion of creative commons images.

And speaking of Flickr, have you checked out http://flickrvision.com/

Chris Sloan

on June 23, 2007 10:55 AM

I’ve also had some of my Flickr photos used for various things - including a vacation guide for Australia. I don’t think any of my photos have ended up on T-shirts, though… I have some catching up to do.

@Ryan and Chris
Thanks for the compliments. If you poke around on Flickr, though, you find an incredible amount of talented photographers and gorgeous photos.

I don’t use Photoshop on my photos because it’s too time consuming. I just want people back home to see snapshots I take here.

As far as my view count, Flickr tells me that I’m at 34,154. That sounds impressive until you realize that I have 5,176 photos, which works out to be just 6 views apiece. There’s a list of the most viewed photos, but it’s only available to me. Here are the current top 10. Some of the photos that ended up here baffle me.

  1. Cristo de la Concordia
  2. Chirimoya
  3. Los amigos de Chile
  4. Cow at meat market
  5. Notre Dame locker room
  6. Spanish words for silverwear
  7. Valparaiso houses
  8. Roy with turkey
  9. Calle Larga parroquia
  10. Monkey drinking Coke

You make an excellent point, which is that one has to be very careful about what goes online because everyone can find it. Especially with the skyrocketing popularity of MySpace, Facebook, etc., there’s an awful lot of personal information that might not be as personal as we think. If I were to rewrite my ending, maybe it should be, “you never know the places you’ll go and some of them might be places you’d rather not have gone.” Thanks for the reminder that the knife cuts both ways.

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