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.