Tag Archives: photography

2,000,000 pageviews on Flickr…I think?

After about three and a half years since I registered for Flickr Pro, I’ve hit the 2,000,000 photo-views milestone.

I had expected to hit that mark tomorrow, because of two trending photos I submitted to Reddit’s r/nyc and r/CityPorn subreddits. However, it’s a little strange because I shot past the 2M mark because this photo of an informal Pride parade received more than 19,000 page views in a matter of seconds:

Flickr stats

Flickr stats

If you look at the stats pic above, you’ll see that nearly all of the photoviews come from “Unknown Source”…Nome of my photos have ever reached that many pageviews in so short a time, so I’m guessing someone’s Reddit/Tumblr scraper went bonkers.

I expected this photo of the New York skyline from NYU’s Kimmel Center to be the photo that racked up the thousands of pageviews, but I suppose it’s proper timing that a Pride-related photo would have the honors.

NYC's Washington Square Park, Fifth Avenue, and Empire State Building from NYU's Kimmel Center

NYC’s Washington Square Park, Fifth Avenue, and Empire State Building from NYU’s Kimmel Center

Flickr’s redesign makes it a photo service actually worth sharing

I’ve been a paying Flickr member since late 2009, but this year was going to be my last. I believed this even after I forgot to change my billing settings and Flickr auto-renewed me into 2015, because it seemed chances were good that Flickr, a long-neglected and resource intensive property, would get the ax soon and I’d get a refund anyway.

Flickr’s been a great place to organize and store photos, but its outdated, lackluster design – mostly unchanged for nearly a half decade – made it unappealing for actually viewing photos. In addition to paying the annual $24.95 fee for Flickr’s pro membership, I bought third-party iOS apps just to browse my own Flickr collection. So leaving Flickr would’ve been inconvenient, but only in the way that having to move my dusty box of photos from one attic to another would be inconvenient.

So, of course, I was one of the jaded naysayers who, after hearing Tumblr was bought by Yahoo for $1.1 billion, thought:

  1. Hello Tumblr, welcome to retirement
  2. Goodbye Flickr, that’s $1 billion that won’t be going to your modernization

But Yahoo’s (quite abrupt) launch of a “better, brighter” redesign will keep me a happy member for at least the next couple of years. For the first time in about 4 years of being a paid member, I’ll actually want to use Flickr to show my photos.

Before this week’s redesign, Flickr’s sparse, thumbnail-heavy design – which may have been sensible five years ago, when bandwidth was more expensive – made the service unappealing for easy browsing of images. Here’s what my profile page looked like in April (courtesy of web.archive.org, which apparently captured it in French) compared to post-redesign:

full sizes

Note: Flickr’s JavaScript hides the photos that are outside the browser’s current viewing area, which is why you see all those gray boxes at the bottom.

If you haven’t been actively using Flickr (and based on ongoing reports of Flickr’s demise, this is likely the case), Flickr’s redesign may seem like just catch-up to the photo-heavy designs long adopted by Google+ and, well, Tumblr. But it was an absolutely critical improvement for Flickr. Flickr has had more than enough features for managing and discussing photos (compared to non-photo-centric services), so the fact that the redesign is mostly a skin-deep overhaul is just fine (for now).

This seems almost too obvious to state, but the appeal of photography is rooted in the immediacy and attractiveness of its visual display. A wedding photographer told me that the key to his success was that he took the time to create a printed book of photos for his clients instead of just handing them a photo DVD. Because while photo DVDs hold many more photos, having to pop in the DVD and browse photo files with the computer’s default photo program was a terrible viewing experience. And so clients rarely browsed photo DVDs for leisure. And more importantly, to the photographer dependent on referrals, customers rarely showed the DVD photos to visiting friends and family.

The Flickr “photostream” now actually looks and navigates like a photostream. There’s a few JavaScript issues and performance kinks to work out, but I can’t overstate how much more nicer the redesign is, and I wonder how much Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer had to do with pushing it through. When she was a vice president at Google, Mayer was well-aware of how sensitive users are to speed – a half-second delay in retrieving search results resulted in a 20% drop in revenue and traffic from users. I imagine this sensitivity is even more acute when it comes to visual streams, in which we expect to experience images as fast as the light hits our retinas. In 2010, Mayer took some good-natured ribbing about how stingy Google’s (text) search results were. While she didn’t go into the justification behind Google’s only-10-links-per-page design, she spoke proudly of a new infinite scroll feature in Google Image Search, which allowed users to scroll thousands of images quickly.

“People are able to scan lots of visual information, really fast,” Mayer said. “[But] reading a search result may take longer.”

The redesign improves Flickr’s viability as a social network, too. Even though Flickr had one of the earliest photo communities and discussion groups, the homepage did very little to surface those interactions. Instead, the default user homepage put priority on showing users their own most recently uploaded photos, which, if you hadn’t uploaded photos in weeks or months, was not a good use of the homepage. There were subsections for the photos uploaded by your groups and friends, but again, the thumbnail-focused design made this unusable. I almost never clicked through the thumbnails of other people’s photos because it was impossible to know from 75×75 pixels if the photo was worth looking at.

Here’s what the Flickr homepage looked like for nearly five years after the 2008 redesign, (courtesy of CNET):

Via a CNET review

Here’s what logged-in users see on the Flickr homepage today:

The Flickr homepage today, for a logged in user

Right now, it seems that Flickr is just showing the most recent photos from my network, without curating them with data metrics (such as number of views, favorites, comments) to ensure that the photo is also interesting. But I’m already more interested in my network than I’ve ever been.

When Flickr introduced its new mobile app late last year, that actually bolstered my opinion that the service was in its final year, because the new app seemed like the very epitome of a hasty ohmygod-lets-just-do-something plan: “maybe if we add filters, users will come back to us.” But this week’s changes give some assurance that someone in charge really cares about making Flickr relevant again. The photo-centric design and the (practically) limitless storage space are absolutely critical to the way people use photo services. Flickr’s previous limit of 200 photos for non-pro users was made Flickr completely useless in a technological era where the average smartphone user produces 200 (relatively) likeable photos in a couple of weeks.

And the redesign makes Flickr a real home for photos, not just a storage box. For awhile, I’ve half-assedly maintained a set of my “favorite” photos, about 500 of the 8,500 I’ve dumped on Flickr so far. My favorites set wasn’t a place to show off (the album design was as plain as the old photostream design), but merely triage for my photo archive before I finally got around to quitting Flickr to move to an attractive portfolio site. But with the new design, my photoset pages are just about good enough to be portfolio pages:

Part of my "favorites" set

Part of my “favorites” set

To give you an idea of how little I navigated my own Flickr collections – i.e how important the interface is to the photo browsing experience – my first thought when looking through my set of favorites after the redesign wasn’t, “These photos look nice,” but: “Wow, I don’t even remember taking some of these photos.”

Even though the Tumblr acquisition is the big news this week, kudos to the Flickr team for their own big changes and their big ambitions.

The Storm Commercially Known as Nemo

I’ve been fiddling around with my WordPress theme, figuring out how it works as a CMS. So here’s a photo that is somehow going to propagate through WordPress’s “featured image” handling. It’s from the night of the big snow storm last month. I walked for about 5 hours up to Fifth Avenue in Midtown. I got into a pretty good snowball fight in Times Square, too.

R.I.P. Sgt. Tyler Ziegel

Left: Sgt. Tyler Ziegel with his wife, Renee, in 2006. Photo by Nina Berman

Left: Sgt. Tyler Ziegel with his wife, Renee, in 2006. Photo by Nina Berman

A couple years ago, I randomly wrote a post because I was so affected by a photo exhibit at the Whitney Museum. The photos documented the life of Marine Tyler Ziegel, who suffered horrific burns during a suicide bomb attack in Iraq; the photographer, Nina Berman, was awarded the World Press Photo’s portraiture award in 2006 and Ziegel became one of the iconic images of the hell of war.

After writing that post, I might not have thought much more about Ziegel, who by all accounts lived a quiet life. But through some strange fluke with Google, that post ended up being one of the first search results for Ziegel’s name. The steady stream of visitors to it was a constant reminder of his sacrifice. He inspired such admiration and compassion that that random post is by far the most viewed page on this blog.

Sgt. Ziegel died last week on Dec. 26, 2012, after falling on ice. He was 30.

Berman’s image is unforgettable. But Ziegel’s story after the blast is also compelling. People Magazine did a profile of Ziegel shortly after his wedding in 2006:

For Ty and Renee the two years since have been a wrenching test of love and character. In a culture obsessed with physical perfection, Ty is now vulnerable to stares and whispers. Not naturally introspective and blunt to the point of gruffness, he says he doesn’t bother with what-ifs. Rather, he relies on a store of dark humor. “I’m thinking of writing a book, You Know You’ve Been Blown Up If…,” he says, in homage to redneck comic Jeff Foxworthy. “Like, ‘You know you’ve been blown up if a year later you bleed in the shower.'” One night, out to dinner with a Marine pal, Ty had a little fun with a man who was smoking. “My friend was like, ‘Hey buddy, do you mind? Do you see what happened to this smoker?'” Ty recalls. “The guy put his cigarette out and walked away.”

There’s also this 2007 interview with Berman in Salon (before Ziegel and his wife divorced):

Yes. I asked Ty, what do little kids say? Do little kids get scared? In my book, I’d photographed a really severely burned soldier. And when I was with him I’d see kids shy away and he would smile at them.

Ty would just laugh — he’s got a great sense of humor. Kids would say, “What happened to your ears?” and he’d say, “The bad guys took ‘em.” They’d say, “What happened to your nose?” and he’d say, “The bad guys took it.” I guess he tried to make some little game out of it to deal with it.

Rest in peace, Tyler. See the rest of Berman’s photos of Tyler’s life here.

Tyler Ziegel with his then fiancee, Renee.

Marine Sgt. Tyler Ziegel, Photog Nina Berman at the Whitney

Jan. 2, 2012: Tyler Ziegel passed away on Dec. 26, 2012. He was 30. The Peoria Journal Star has a story about his funeral. RIP Tyler.

Tyler and Renee. Photo by Nina Berman

Stopped at the Whitney Biennial last night at around 2am (it’s been open on a 24 hour schedule this week). The modern art at the Whitney may be too modern for me and my MoMA-loving-style, but there were a couple rooms of powerful documentary photography, including Nina Berman’s 2006 World Press Photo Portraiture winner, of Marine Sgt. Ty Ziegel.

Even if the Whitney isn’t your kind of art, the Berman exhibit is worth a visit this Memorial Day weekend.

Ziegel suffered burns over his entire body after a suicide bomb attack in Iraq. Berman’s award winning photo was of Ziegel, then 24, and his 21-year-old bride, Renee, getting their wedding portrait taken at the studio. I don’t know what the official portrait ended up being, but Berman’s take, with the bride’s haunted expression, turns the cliched-wedding-portrait on its head. Read a Salon Q&A here.

Tyler and Renee, before IraqI remember seeing that photo in the awards gallery, but the Whitney exhibit featured more than a dozen photos of Ziegel’s life, then during the wedding, and then a follow-up in 2008.

Their marriage on Oct. 7, 2006 was hailed as an example of the power of love: two high school sweethearts making the commitment despite Ziegel’s disfigurement. That day was declared a state holiday: “Renee and Tyler Ziegel Day”.

Despite everyone’s hope for a happy ending, they divorced the following January. A Times of London profile in 2008 resignedly states, “It turns out love doesn’t conquer all. It’s a myth.”

In the Salon Q&A, Berman talks about how Ziegel’s sense of humor persevered:

I asked Ty, what do little kids say? Do little kids get scared? In my book, I’d photographed a really severely burned soldier. And when I was with him I’d see kids shy away and he would smile at them.

Ty would just laugh — he’s got a great sense of humor. Kids would say, “What happened to your ears?” and he’d say, “The bad guys took ’em.” They’d say, “What happened to your nose?” and he’d say, “The bad guys took it.” I guess he tried to make some little game out of it to deal with it.

In the Times UK profile, the author writes of the difficult time faced by both Tyler and Renee:

Most of the time, [Buddy Robison, Tyler’s best friend] and Ty talk about music. And, like Becky, he isn’t worried about Ty moving on and falling in love again. “Someone will see through his skin and see his heart,” he says. And what of his own personal feelings about Renee? Buddy smiles. “That’s a hard question.” He takes his time before answering, choosing his words with care.

“I respect her a lot for sticking by Ty’s side. Moving to San Antonio? she helped him through the hardest time in his life

“Before he got blown up, we were both shy. We were exactly alike. Now he’s not afraid to go up to someone he doesn’t know and talk to them. He doesn’t hide. Obviously, people look, but he walks straight ahead.”

There has only been one incident where there’s been trouble. A little over a year ago they were leaving a bar and a bunch of local college kids made fun of Ty. There was a fight.

“They made fun of him, called him a freak. You can’t just brush that off. Someone’s got the audacity to do that to someone who served his country, protecting them?”

Tyler and Renee, Nina Berman

Nina Berman Photography

Who better understands freedom of the press? An Apple supplier, or Chinese state police?

A Reuters reporter tried to photograph, from the street, a Foxconn plant that was rumored to be manufacturing parts for Apple products. Foxconn guards chased him, stopped the taxi he tried to escape in, and tried to drag him into the factory while beating him.

Who saved the reporter? Chinese police, who had to remind Foxconn guards that it is legal to take pictures from a public street.

In China, a Reuters reporter found out the hard way how seriously some Apple suppliers take security.

Tipped by a worker outside the Longhua complex that a nearby Foxconn plant was manufacturing parts for Apple too, our correspondent hopped in a taxi for a visit to the facility in Guanlan, which makes products for a range of companies.

As he stood on the public road taking photos of the front gate and security checkpoint, a guard shouted. The reporter continued snapping photos before jumping into a waiting taxi. The guard blocked the vehicle and ordered the driver to stop, threatening to strip him of his taxi license.

The correspondent got out and insisted he was within his rights as he was on the main road. The guard grabbed his arm. A second guard ran over, and with a crowd of Foxconn workers watching, they tried dragging him into the factory.

The reporter asked to be let go. When that didn’t happen, he jerked himself free and started walking off. The older guard kicked him in the leg, while the second threatened to hit him again if he moved. A few minutes later, a Foxconn security car came along but the reporter refused to board it. He called the police instead.

After the authorities arrived and mediated, the guards apologized and the matter was settled. The reporter left without filing a complaint, though the police gave him the option of doing so.

“You’re free to do what you want,” the policeman explained, “But this is Foxconn and they have a special status here. Please understand.”

The rest of the article is quite interesting and asserts that Apple’s obsession with secrecy permeates into its supply chain, causing each supplier to be extremely stringent with their employees and goods.

Last year, a Foxconn employee in China jumped to his death, reportedly after being interrogated by his employer on suspicion of sneaking out an iPhone prototype. The blame can’t be placed all on Apple, as this Reuters article from July 2009 points out: Chinese counterfeiters, and lack of enforcement of intellectual property laws, makes the theft of product a bit more damaging to the bottom line.

As for whether secrecy itself makes an Apple product more desirable…I’ve known about the iPad for a month, with all of its shortcomings. I’m still thinking about getting one. The problem is the product iterations; I waited for the new iPod model because I assumed it had a camera. If it leaked out that the new iPod touch was a minor increment, I would’ve gotten my Canon S90 point-and-shoot a lot earlier…