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Storytelling and the value of context…

February 24, 2021, 6:40 PM

Lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about how my photography tends to present itself in the various places that I post my work.  This is on the occasion of a nearly yearlong backlog of photography that is sitting in my queue just waiting to be published.  In other words, this is why there haven’t been any Photography or Life and Times sets published from 2020 as of yet (they’re coming, I promise).  2020 was a banner year for me as far as photography went, as I was more productive in that year than I have been for the last several years.  I’ve just not gotten much of it out the door, with only a relatively small amount’s being published as the photo feature on the front of the website, as well as in the Journal.  The rest of it is still waiting to be published.

The reason for the delay in publication is because of a giant Flickr project that I’ve been working on since around April or so.  What I want to do is to use my Flickr as my main photo library, i.e. most stuff that I publish goes on Flickr.  The ultimate goal with this project was to take everything that I had previously published on Wikimedia Commons and ensure that it was duplicated on my Flickr.  I called it “putting Wikimedia Commons behind me”, because I’m essentially moving on from the platform, and making it where I never have to refer back to it again.  But I didn’t just do a straight sweep of Flickr and copy it all over.  That would be too easy, and if I’m publishing something on a new venue, I want it to look good by my current standards.  Thus I go in and locate the original photos in my archive and process them according to my current techniques as if they’re new material.  Sometimes the cut is a little different, and sometimes the lighting comes out a little differently than before, but I think that it’s a much better end result.  Recall that I did the same thing when I converted Schumin Web to WordPress back in 2011-2012.  I went back and reprocessed all of the photos from the originals, and they looked awesome.

This situation was made a tad more complicated by the way I did things back in 2013 when I first started getting serious about my Flickr.  In that case, I went through things from the beginning, but I was very conservative about what older material I published to Flickr.  I didn’t publish a lot of older material when I did that initial upload.  Who knows why.  So for this project, I did two waves.  The first was a second dive through the archives up to 2013, looking for stuff that was worth publishing as a standalone work.  That took several months to do, and resulted in about 17 pages’ worth of new uploads to Flickr.  Some of that was stuff that had previously been published other places, and a lot of it was new.  I figured that I would catch most of the stuff that was on Wikimedia Commons that way.  While I did catch quite a bit of it, I knew that I wouldn’t catch all of it.  Thus my second wave was to sweep through my contributions to Commons directly, and catch everything that I’d missed.  I figured that I would probably catch about 100 photos and put them up on Flickr.  Oh, how wrong I was.  When I finished my sweep, I ended up having 528 all together.  Made me think of Strong Bad when his computer got a virus, and he said, “That is not a small number!  That is a big number!”  I located all of them, edited all of them based on my current standards, and now I’m in the process of uploading them all.  Thankfully, the process has gone fairly smoothly.

Interestingly, this whole project has made me appreciate Schumin Web more, as well as give me a better understanding of the role that it plays in my ecosystem.  Schumin Web will turn 25 next month, and I’ve come to realize what Schumin Web is really about: storytelling.  From the outset, I have always been going to Schumin Web to tell stories.  Some stories are about momentous occasions.  Some stories are about more mundane things.  Some stories are told through words, and some are told through more visual means.  But regardless of the format that a story takes, there is always a story to be told.  Over the years, I’ve refined my approach to how I tell stories.  Modern Journal entries are much longer and more detailed than they used to be, and photo sets have changed form over the years, but that basic element of storytelling is still there.  You don’t get that same element of storytelling on Flickr, Google Maps, Wikimedia Commons, and so on.  Schumin Web is where I tend to go long form on stories.  I’ve said before that social media sites have probably shaped Schumin Web more than anything in the last decade or so, because those shorter stories went there, leaving the longer, more detailed stories for Schumin Web.  And really, that’s suited this site well, since there’s really no place for that sort of longer sort of storytelling on social media.  Social media is for “soundbites”, for the most part.  And as an added bonus, the longer form stuff possibly makes me sound a little smarter, because I can go into more detail and explain things better than in a quick soundbite that doesn’t always capture the whole idea.

Now, that’s not to say that those other services don’t have value to them.  The reduced amount of context that these sites provide allow me to present different things than I might have done on Schumin Web.  With Flickr, I look at the photos first based on various qualities, and then describe each photo individually via a brief text passage and keywords.  With Google Maps, there is no context other than “this is what the place looks like”.  I no longer contribute to Wikimedia Commons directly, but it is similar to Flickr in the level of context that it provides.  But for what services those sites provide, that amount of context makes enough sense.  Commons is about educational usage of photos, Google is to provide context for mapped locations, and Flickr is a photo gallery.

Compare to Schumin Web, where I choose material based on the story that I am telling.  The story determines which photos I use and don’t use.  There are some photos that I absolutely love that don’t get run on Schumin Web because they don’t fit the story that I’m trying to tell.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make me grateful for other venues in order to display stuff that is good but just doesn’t fit.  Likewise, I tend to not post more personal stuff on Flickr, while I definitely post more stuff of a personal nature on Schumin Web.  Different things for different places and all.  For instance, I took tons and tons of photos while Elyse and I were on our Hampton Roads trip last April, but not a whole lot has come out from that adventure, because Schumin Web is not the venue for a lot of it just because it doesn’t really tell a story, and is great as freestanding material.  I admit, though, that the discussion of that trip, with its 79 photos, probably should have been a Life and Times set instead of a Journal entry, but such is life.  Hampton Roads, however, is probably going to be the first thing to go out on Flickr once I finish this project to publish older material.

All in all, though, I suppose that this whole exercise is good for learning the value of various venues, and how they all have different things to do.  Now I just have to get through this monumental backlog of almost a year, and I’ll be good to go.