Photography for algorithms

Flickr Explore is a mystery. How do they choose the 500 photographs each day? What criteria is used in the selection? Is it the number of views a photograph gets? Is it the faves? Is it the tags? Is it the groups it is submitted to? Is there a photography guru in Flickr headquarters trawling through the millions of photographs posted to Flickr each day and whittling it down to 500?

No, apparently it is an algorithm they use. An algorithm is ‘a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.’ Now, I can see how selecting 500 photographs to represent a cross section of interesting photographs is a type of problem that needs solving, but photographs are taken by people, viewed and enjoyed by people, yet somehow a computer employing an algorithm can calculate and select for us interesting photographs. 

I find it bizzarre.

But I find it fun. I love when an image of mine hits Explore. Your views rocket. You gain new contacts (or followers as Flickr wants us to know them as now). It brings out a competitive nature in us all. We want to see how high our photograph can climb in the ranking in Explore. Ya, it is just good fun. Photography is the greatest hobby anyone can have and hobbies have to be enjoyed. Fun! And Flickr’s Explore is fun. Nothing more. It sure as hell is not a judge of how good a photograph is. A lot of dross make Explore, but you will find interesting photographs on there.

When I joined Flickr first back in 2007, I was intrigued by Explore. It was mysterious and exclusive. The photographs chosen all seemed so much better than mine. The photographers so much cooler too. Try as I did, I never could get a photograph in Explore. But then towards the end of 2009 my photos started to appear in Explore and man was I delighted! I posted each day and each day my shot hit Explore. Back then they had the extra bonus of choosing a select few for their Front Page and when your shot hit that, you were a Flickr King or Queen for a day. But then suddenly it all changed. A new algorithm came in, an algorithm that cast its calculating eyes far from my photographs. I was out, banned from Explore, crestfallen. I looked on in envy to those new photographers whose photos were pleasing this new algorithm. And again, try as I might, I just could not get back in. Ya, there were a few occasions when a shot would gatecrash in when the algorithm was busy recalculating, but the days of hitting the heights on Explore were gone. 

In 2011, when I got into mobile photography I opened up a new account for my iPhone images and in late 2012 a few shots began to make it to Explore. It seems to come and go in cycles now. I will get about 7 or 8 shots into Explore in succession and then months with nothing. The past few days have been exceptional in terms of Explore. The three shots below all made it to the main page of Explore. The first one actually made it to Explore number 1, but then fell to number 2. My views have gone through the roof. Absolutely ridiculous stuff, but fun. That is all it is, really. 

So, there you have it. Photography for algorithms. That is how low, how shallow I have become. Shame on my photographic self.


Always Leaving


House Proud


All I have become is someone else’s passerby


The squeak of our shoes on the lino floor

Some photographs we take have huge personal meaning. Ones when we look at it can catapult us in an instant back to when the shot was taken. The feeling of that moment hits us so intensely. Continuing in the series of my personal iPhone favourites I have chosen this shot of a corridor taken in the early morning.  I can hear the squeak of our shoes on the lino floor as we walked the corridor. I can see our shadows appearing on the wall and then disappearing as we passed the windows.



Red & White

Street photography and privacy

Street photography and privacy, the right to privacy; where is the line to be drawn? There are occasions when people are in intimate moments, when their emotions overspill and are so evident; is it OK then to hoist a camera and document that? I am not sure. I remember one time in Riga when I threw an ashtray at a photographer who was asking a young boy to extend his hands in a begging gesture so he could get a photograph of it. This attempt to get the shot went on for a while. The boy cooperated because I presume he believed that in doing so the guy would recompense him. He didn’t. Without even a word of thanks he turned and walked off. I picked up the ashtray (a plastic one) from the table l I was sitting at and threw it at him. I missed, thankfully.

When I am taking street shots what am I trying to capture? I honestly do not know. Looking though my iPhone stream, selecting some of my personal favourties, I stumbled upon the shot below. I remember taking it on a busy street in Lisbon. We were there on a family holiday in 2011. The couple are in a public place, but the moment they are sharing is intensely private. Their embrace, their unspoken togetherness got all my attention. My head raced as to how this moment was arrived at. I could say that instinctively I got the iPhone out and photographed it, but perhaps it was more predatory. Here were two strangers, two people I would never meet again whose intimacy and its story I could shoot. I did.

Now, despite the questions this poses; whether it is intrusive or not, I do like the photograph a lot. There is a tenderness and love there.

I would love to hear feedback on the questions it poses. Thanks.


The things I remember

Semi-colons are funky sister-in-laws

If you pursue creative expression, beginnings are what you crave.  The title of my blog is photographic punctuation. Its notion began in the photograph of one of my favourite photographers – Michael Kistler. He has a beautiful photograph entitled - because punctuation just confuses things. Being a lover of words and a lover of images, this hit me. Punctuation. In a way, that is what photography is. It is life captured and punctuated. It provides or places visually full stops, question marks, exclamation marks and and nearly always – ellipsis (those three dots that tell us things are unfinished); it is visual intonation.

At home, one Friday night, late and after a little wine, I began work on the photo below. It is a simple shot. A person passing by. With a little sliding in Lightroom, the final rendition was posted to Flickr. Once uploaded, the subject reminded me of an exclamation mark (I am not sure if the little wine I had consumed contributed to this). From that came the title and from that came this little ditty:

Commas, not unlike under-fed cousins, are to be avoided if uncertainty arises. Full stops are to be known as periods; periods as full stops. Semi-colons are funky sister-in-laws, lewd, in undressed tights; ready to be resisted. Exclamations marks are not indelible, but caution is advised. Capitalise correctly at all times. 
Photographic punctuation is not disguised. Kiss it!

And from that a whole series of images began. A series I am still pursuing.  And here it is – number 6 in a week of my some of my personal favourites. 


photographic punctuation

The sheet slips from the bed

Photography for me is an entry. An entry into creativity. In many ways it is an easy one. It is hard to avoid what we see and to reproduce it could not be easier – just point and shoot, as they say.

The dream, the objective for me is to write. But I am ill-disciplined. Flickr has helped me to cope with that inconsistency. I post two photographs most days to my two flickr accounts. It is an exercise for me. Often, I am staring at the image when I have uploaded it to Flickr, emptying myself in an effort to see how the photograph can fill me; can trigger something to allow an interpretation in words come. Sometimes, it is as easy as opening a window to let air in, other times the window’s glass is replaced with brick. It may come in the form of a title, a poem, a dialogue or a story. When it comes, it flows.

Around the time of the birth of my son, my sleeping patterns got messed up and it was like I had forgotten how to fall asleep, insomnia Jumped in bed with me, and like any excited new bed partner, it just wanted me to stay up all night.  One of the many things I tried to do around that time (still in fact) is to write. Some of my photographs around that period are dark. I found the words, when they came, were initially vague and veiled, but revealing.

The image I have chosen for today is one of a reflection of a line of trees in the roof of my car. When I opened my front door in the mornings and step on to the elevated doorstep the car’s roof was below me.  It was silver-coloured. There were dark, scraggly lines of trees’ branches, seemingly etched into the silver. Deprived of sleep has its advantages. It hazes the mind. I stood staring at this. Then I realised I had to photograph it. I got the 55mm – 200mm lens, zoomed in, focussed out and below is the result.

Later, I uploaded it to Flickr and hazy-headed I sat and wrote:
The sheet slips from the bed. He turns and kisses me. Light streams in through the slit of the curtains to rest on the wall behind us. His voice is quiet, whispering to me. Our breath slows and rises with our sighs. I feel it warm on my neck. Lingering. The back of his hand runs down my cheek and pushes aside the hair from my face. He smiles.

He is here with me; here with me now. My eyes close and open, close and open.

Awake. I know he is not here. My eyes shut. I exhale. I will the dream to return. The images appear in fragments, fleeing me.




Continuing to look through my flickr stream to select my favourites is resulting in a lot of nostalgia. Years of photographs posted to flickr means I am in the process of compiling a document, a record of my life, of the life I share with my little family.

The one I have chosen for today was taken on a wonderful family holiday to Barcelona in 2010. My little boy was only a few months old and my little girl had just turned 3. We rented an apartment close to Las Ramblas and for the ten days we were there we endeavoured to be the best tourists we possibly could be. For me, and now also for my wife, Barcelona is the most beautiful, enthralling and wonderful European cities.

I adore its vibrancy, its colour, its streets, its warmth, its charm. It has everything. It has the Mediterranean sea meeting its city streets, it has a myriad of lanes and alleys, it has a meandering rambling boulevard heaving with city life, it has an unfinished symphony of a cathedral, it has squares, it has octagons, it has diagonals, it has the sun, it has the shade, It has the sin, the saving grace, the smells that linger, it has music filling its ancient squares, it has noise at every turn, it has water and light, it has beauty in its youth, it has sumptuous food, it has Montjuic, it has the Camp Nou, it has Messi, it has Xavi, it had Gaudi, it had Picasso, it had Maradona, it had Miro, it had the Olympics, it has fire – breathe it in, breathe it out – Barcelona! Writing this now makes me yearn to return. One day soon…

On that holiday, I took hundreds of photographs. If you could imagine the scene, it would be one of a mother pushing a buggy with a little toddler waddling along beside her and the father dawdling and lingering in the background, camera in hand, nervously trying to get that shot. The wife every now and then looking back to see, not where her little 3 year old may have gone, but as to what was delaying her husband; what the hell was he photographing.

The photograph I have chosen was taken on our walk back to the apartment; a walk through the old lanes of the Barrio Gotico.  Here we have a couple. She sitting with her bicycle to her left and he standing, his body turned from her, his head turned to her. The body language powerfully describing their relationship in this moment. The distance between them will be filled with love or loss.



A week of my personal favourites

I was asked to post some of my own favourite photographs on the blog and to give some background to each one. The first one I have chosen is from a wonderful driving holiday I had with my brother in 2006 in the Spanish and French Pyrenees.

We spent a couple of days in Cadaqués, the birthplace of a little known Catalan painter, whose name escapes me.  Arriving there, descending the corkscrew hills into the little seaside village took forever. The traffic edged forward at a snail’s pace.

In the evening, rain fell as if the sky was emptying itself. It brought a freshness when it passed. The air was crisp and the smells of Ducados cigarettes and seafood  lingered in the August night. As ever, I had my camera with me. Then it was a little Nikon point and shoot.  And when before me a young girl dressed in red passed, I pointed and shot. Those days blur was an accident, a disappointment, and very often in those early days of digital cameras a blurred photograph upon inspection was quickly deleted. However, I remember seeing the blur of the motion, the colours seemingly dragged along and I loved it.

Many of the best things in life are the results of unintended actions.

I will post one photograph from my own personal favourites each day this week.



And with that she was gone