the validity of virtual photography

I generally believe that misperceptions, or even conflicts, are not bad. If dealt with in a constructive manner they in fact often demystify things. In this post then, I address the common misperception that “real life” photography is more valid than virtual world photography. I look at some of the criteria that overlap in both. I address the difficulty of some critics to accept virtual photography as legitimate. I talk about virtual photography as the same and as different, and as a means of communication between people in Second Life. I consider that virtual photography, especially as perceived on Flickr, may in fact be a new form of art.

I am not a photographer by profession, merely a novice snapping pictures in the virtual world. But regardless, and again, as mentioned in my Le serpent qui danse May 11, 2017 blog entry, it seems to me a photograph is a photograph whether it is taken in real or virtual worlds. If not, would someone please explain to me what is actually the difference?

One of the reasons that I care about the meaning of virtual photography is because I am getting fed up with it being thought of as second best to “real life” photography. It just doesn’t make sense to me. In fact, there are many criteria that overlap when it comes to virtual and “real life” photography. There are virtual images that are of better quality than others, just as it is the case with “real life” photography. The question of what is art pertains to virtual and “real life” photography alike. The thinking involved in the creative process of virtual and “real life” photographs is the same. And so on.

Probably certain critics of virtual world photography, and of SL Flickr, have a hard time consolidating the fact that virtual photography is legitimate because they experience it as a threat. In their minds, this kind of photography must not be real because these days any novice has access to editing tools required to produce an image. But isn’t that great? Why condemn people who experiment creatively with photography? Shouldn’t we be open to creativity in all its forms? Why so frightened of the new and the undefined?

I firmly believe that a virtual photograph is just like a “real life” photograph. But I also believe that it is much more than simply an image; it is a tool for people in Second Life to communicate with each other about their virtual experiences in a virtual community space (Flickr). When we are part of a virtual world like Second Life, we communicate in-world via IM, voice, poses, profiles, and with our choice of avatar appearance. A big part of our communication with each other is also expressed creatively with our photos on Flickr. There are virtual photographers on Flickr who I have never met but I feel I know them because I know their photographs. They have become familiar to me.

Lastly, and boldly, I would go as far as suggesting that virtual photography as we see it and experience it on Flickr is art. So while the virtual photograph is just like the “real life” photograph, it is also not. It represents a new form of art with categories and criteria of its own. I will not go into this too much here because it is something that Tutsy Navarathna and myself discussed at length in the past and even considered putting together a publication about. We may still. It was during these discussions about virtual art and Flickr that Tutsy cleverly coined the term Flickrism.

In conclusion, I think it is safe to say that a virtual photograph is the same as a “real life” photograph. In addition it also serves as a communication tool for creative people occupying the virtual world. And we may want to start considering virtual Flickr photography a new virtual art movement in its own right. Virtual photography is not only the same as “real life” photography it is also different. Different is a usually a good thing, at least in my book.

Photograph by Kate Bergdorf

Le serpent qui dance

For the past few weeks I’ve been completely caught up in finishing a collection of photographs for an upcoming exhibit at the Itakos Gallery. The exhibit, The Dancing Serpent, inspired by the poem with the same name by Charles Baudelaire (Fleurs du Mal, 1857), is curated by Akim Alonzo. The opening is this Sunday, May 14, at 1:30PM SLT.

Baudelaire’s poem Le serpent qui dance is playful, filled with erotic symbolism and metaphor; it is an ode to desire and longing, no doubt, sexual and otherwise. It consist of nine parts. As the themes for my ten photographs I picked one sentence from each part, as well as the name of the poem itself. There are at least twenty translations of Le serpent qui dance; I ended up choosing the version by William Aggeler, translated in 1954.

Putting together this exhibit led me down a path of self-examination. I came up against content issues where I questioned my use of the female subject as a nude. I realized finally that adding a male subject in some of the images would add a much-needed tension. Also, during the weeks that I worked on this virtual world project I simultaneously had several deadlines in real life that needed to be met. I had to seriously consider the importance of time and how it was spent. I reached the conclusion that the process of creativity, regardless if in real life or virtual life, could only aid me in the sense that it provided a welcomed escape from too much thinking. Lastly, I questioned the meaning of the virtual world Flickr photography itself.

About virtual world Flickr photography then. I showed my ten completed photographs to several friends, all of whom I respect in part because they are talented virtual world photographers who I know will not hesitate to offer constructive criticism. I was pleased with their feedback and, yes, relieved, because like so many others, I never really know if my work is any good. I then showed the images to a friend who is a real life photographer, but does not himself have a Second Life Flickr account. He simply refused to comment. Once I got over his frustrating lack of response, I started pondering what some of his reasons for not commenting may have been. He did not want to offend me with negative feedback, could it be that simple? His only observation, which was something like “everybody on Flickr will love it,” referred to the fact that nude virtual world images receive a disproportionate amount of attention on Flickr? Or could it be that he had actually failed to comprehend that a photograph is a photograph, regardless if taken in real or virtual life? I don’t think I will ever know, but I believe this perhaps nicely illustrates a common reluctance of “real life” photographers to embrace and accept the newness and, yes, modernity, of virtual world Flickr photography. If I sound defensive, it is because I am. But it is not about my work, it is about feeling protective of virtual world Flickr itself. Because rarely in my life have I seen as much creative talent in one place as I have seen there.

This post ended up being much longer than I thought, lots of rambling here. Thank for reading all the way through if you did. Also, and finally, thanks to Akim, an excellent curator, for asking me to show at your beautiful gallery. Thank you also very much to Tutsy Navarathna and Huck Hax for posing; I honestly can’t think of two more patient posers. Thanks to pose makers Del May (Del May Poses) and Olivia LaLonde (Le Poppycock) for your incredible poses, without them, these images could never have been produced.

Poster created by Akim Alonzo

A Non-Violent Protest Using Pictures: Love Trumps Hate

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We are starting a Flickr group as a means for people in SL to process experiences regarding the current political situation in the US. Feel free to join, here is the information:

A Non-Violent Protest Using Pictures: Love Trumps Hate

This Flickr group is a non-violent protest against Donald Trump as President of the United States. Only one week after the election, we are already witnessing a trickle-down effect of his inhumane executive orders all over the world. We will not helplessly stand by and be silenced by this wave of injustice and offer the group as a Second Life forum for us all to use our creativity as a means to process and reflect upon the current world crisis and express our experiences. Second Life people of any nationality and from any country are encouraged to submit photos.

Photograph by Kate Bergdorf

flickr and art

flickr-and-art

Now and then we notice in our Flickr community commentary about certain photographs not being art. Some of these comments are nice, some are not so nice. These comments generally posit that images of nudity and sex are more popular and as they are thus favored more often and get more comments they must then not really be art. I will not get into here what is art and what is not art, but just suggest that images posted on Flickr are both and neither. Flickr is a unique modern phenomenon that is hard to define. It is a platform for creativity and some photographs are clearly better than others. It is also a community, a place where we exchange and express our experiences in the virtual world. Flickr has different meanings for different people. Personally, I like Flickr because others inspire me; I learn from them. I post my photos for feedback and it is unimportant to me whether or not my images are considered art or not. It just doesn’t matter that much. Many of us get excited when we see an image we like and can relate to and we give it a comment and a star. Why is this perceived by some as being so wrong? It has perhaps something to do with the strange phenomenon that the images created by people who consider themselves artists usually get less stars and less comments. I don’t know why some of the more artistic pictures get less attention on Flickr and I have wondered about it myself. Could it also be that some virtual world artists feel frustrated by a general lack of recognition, not only on Flickr but also inworld, and are in fact envious of some Flickr photographers getting more attention (i.e, Flickr stars, comments, followers) than they themselves do? Just saying.

Photograph by Kate Bergdorf

MoVember Exhibition

Movember 2015

Today, Sunday, November 15, between 2 and 3 PM SLT, is the opening of the MoVember 2015 exhibit at the Club LA Gallery. This event is organized by my friend DaisyDaze (aka daze) and Fuyko Amanto and I blogged about it a few weeks ago here. MoVember is an annual event involving the growing of mustaches during the month of November to raise awareness of men’s health issues, such as depression in men, prostate cancer and other male cancers, and associated charities, spearheaded in Second Life for the second year in a row by daze. Lot’s of fun images on display, head over and take a look!

Photograph by Kate Bergdorf

Blogging and Flickr

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For the past few months, I’ve noticed I spend more time on Flickr than on this blog. I’ve blogged for years and Flickr is much more recent, so I sort of get a bit melancholy thinking about it, but it is true. I will not give up blogging, but Flickr definitely has more of my attention right now. It occurred to me that other bloggers, with a few exceptions, seem to be blogging less as well. There also seems to be less Second Life blogs in general. I think it has to do with that now that people have a myriad of social media options available they have to make choices. For instance, I made a conscious decision not to sign up with Facebook, Google +, Instagram, Twitter and Plurk for the reason that there simply are not enough hours in the day allowing me to fully attend to them all. This blog and Flickr are what I have time to do. To me, both are different means of Second Life communication and I find I mostly use them concurrently, i.e. when I publish a blog post with a photograph, I usually also post that image on Flickr with a link to the blog. One is about writing and one is about photography, they overlap and work well together. Maybe the way for me to think of this is  that I am actually not blogging less, I am simply extending it to include Flickr.

Photograph by Kate Bergdorf

The Flickr Fave ★

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The meaning of the Flickr Fave is bewildering to me and perhaps to others too. I will try to decipher it here as best as I can. This is not an easy task since the favoring system doesn’t really make sense. But it seems to me that the most apparent and purest meaning of the Flickr Fave (or any social media Fave for that matter) is that it is being used to express that the photograph is liked. However, to complicate things,  the reason to like or dislike is subjective and varies tremendously. In my humble attempt to make sense of it all, I have come up with a list of categories for people who favor photographs on Flickr. The list is by no means complete or exhaustive and I welcome comments and suggestions for additional categories.

  1. The Fave Addict: This individual is repeatedly and compulsively checking his or her own Faves and also the Faves of others. The quality of the photographs posted by this person may in fact be great, but the main purpose is not to share creative work but rather to gather as many Faves as possible. This category overlaps in part with the Fave Collector.
  2. The Fave Bully: This person does not favor a photograph even if it is outstanding simply because they dislike the person who posted it. The reasoning behind the not adding a Fave is purely subjective and at times a friend may even be recruited not to favor also. This is when feelings of dislike of another person interferes with appreciation of art.
  3. The Fave Catcher-Upper: This person favors many, many images of one photographer at one time because he or she is simply too busy to regularly check the Flickr People postings. There is not enough time in the day to favor photographs individually, however, he or she still wants to be part of the Flickr experience. This person will check in now and then when time allows.
  4. The Fave Collector: This individual Faves most photographs whether he or she likes them or not. The reason for liking someone’s photograph is simply to get as many likes back as possible. There is a great deal of planning invested here, like adding photographs to hundreds of groups to get as many Faves as possible. Collecting Faves becomes like the thrill of a game.
  5. The Fave Forgetter: This is the absentminded person who simply forgets to Fave a photograph on the spot when they really intended to. He or she may remember months later when seeing the photograph again and Fave it then. This individual is then left feeling like he or she has perhaps “missed the boat.”
  6. The Fave Ignorant: This is the individual who could care less about getting Faves. He or she also doesn’t care about giving Faves. This person is solely invested in posting and sharing photography for the sake of displaying their creative work.
  7. The Fave Purist: This person will Fave a photograph simply because the image is appealing and he or she genuinely likes it. His or her reason for liking a photograph is purely objective. This is the true Fave giver!
  8. The Fave Socialite: This person Faves the photographs of friends generously, not because the photograph is great, but simply to support the friend. These individuals are not really that invested in getting Faves back, but merely interested in using Flickr as a means of social communication.
  9. The Fave Supporter: This person Faves a photograph in order to provide support. He or she will liberally give Faves and sees positive elements in most photographs. This individual is someone who offers encouragement and positive reinforcement whenever possible (provided by ~ Cody Zaytsev ~).

Most of us can probably identify with several of these categories. Some of them overlap. So what is really the meaning and importance of the Flickr Fave then? Is in our checking for Faves on our photographs perhaps simply reflected an innate need that we have as humans to be liked? And most confusing to me, what about the stellar photographs that barely get any likes and the mediocre ones that get hundreds?

Addendum: This topic ended up becoming a meaningful discussion between a few Flickr members, take a look here!

Photograph by Kate Bergdorf

The Flickr Group

The Flickr GroupWhat follows are some more ramblings about Flickr. As the reader of this blog already knows, I reactivated an old Flickr account last year and have been quite taken with the entire Flickr experience ever since. My enthusiasm, when taking the photographs in Second Life, manipulating them with some software and then posting them on Flickr, has remained a constant from the beginning. Communication, art and creativity are things that occupy my mind as I go through the process of handling my photographs.  More recently I started a Flickr group, A Lasting Impression, and was then eventually joined by my co-administrator.  It pretty soon became apparent to us that the group is in several ways equivalent to an in-world art gallery. Mostly it is the selecting (similar to curating in-world) and the viewing (similar to gallery display in-world) of the photographs that makes it feel that way. One roadblock that we have repeatedly come up against is selection criteria. We have strict guidelines for photographs accepted into this group and not all photographs fit our mold. When a photograph does not meet our criteria, but is nonetheless great, our selection criteria necessarily become more subjective. The other thing that has proven quite difficult is the rejecting of photographs submitted for admission to the group. These are usually photographs that are decent, but for whatever reason do not fit into the group. Neither of us wants to be the bad-guy and reject a photograph, however, if we want to uphold the high standard of quality of this group we have no choice. Nonetheless, rejecting a photograph is very hard. Overriding the selection of photographs for the group is the question of what is really art. Is a Flickr photograph art and, if yes, what defines Flickr art? Is it the purpose of our group to be an art photography group?

Photograph by Kate Bergdorf

Additional Thoughts on Flickr

Snapshot_004I’ve been thinking some more about the meaning of Flickr for those of us who are in Second Life. What follows are additional thoughts on virtual world communication (see also The Importance of Flickr) and then some comments on creativity and Flickr non-user-friendliness.

Meaningful experiences in Second Life are captured in photographs and then posted on Flickr. The responses to our photographs from other Flickr members are important to us and an extension of our Second Life communication process. When posting our photographs we want to share our Second Life experiences with others and we want their feedback.  We also want to see what others are experiencing by looking at their images and provide them with our feedback. This photograph-feedback-loop process is an attempt to make sense of our virtual experiences.

One of the main reasons I am in Second Life is because of creativity. I thrive on being creative and also on experiencing and promoting the creativity of others. I find this is indeed true when it comes to Flickr as well. I enjoy tremendously spending time taking a photo in Second Life, thinking about what I want to do with it, processing it using an image-editing software and then posting it on Flickr. The entire time I spend doing this I am being creative. It involves generating new ideas, problem solving and communication of values. I also derive much pleasure from looking at photographs by others on Flickr. When I come across a photo I like, I am usually significantly moved by it in some way or another.

Lastly, however, let me also just say this: as much as I enjoy it, Flickr is not particularly user friendly. I am struggling at times, just as I did initially in Second Life, to figure things out. For instance, how does one include photographs in a private group without other Flickr members seeing them? In the photograph comment section, how does one include in a thank you response the icon of person who commented on the photograph? How does one create a gallery? I’m still fairly new to Flickr, but still, these seem like fairly standard actions that should not be too complicated to figure out. I am excited about learning more about Flickr and also about the Flickr/Second Life connection. This is all for now on this topic, but there may be more in the future. Keep on posting those photographs, I know I will.

Photograph by Kate Bergdorf

The Importance of Flickr

Snapshot_002I am quite overcome by Flickr at the moment. I didn’t use to be. I had created an account several years ago and it just sat there. I didn’t really get what all the hype was about. I remember thinking even that it was just a futile narcissistic exercise; a repetitive posting of images of the self, propelled by a staggering amounts of “likes.” And maybe that is part of what it is, but it is certainly not all. There are at least two noteworthy reasons that make Flickr important for us in the virtual world; one is communication and the other one is art. Communication in Second Life is about expression with images and with Flickr we have discovered another way to communicate in this way. Flickr has become an extension of Second Life itself. In terms of art, there is a new kind of art being expressed and developed on Flickr. I think there are still no obvious guidelines and only very little sense of what kind of direction this new art photography form will take. But it is there.

Photograph by Kate Bergdorf