Friday, October 06, 2006

Getting Acquainted: Examining "Test" Photos On Flickr

There are currently more than 146,000 photographs on Flickr that use the word "test" in their title, and 27,000 of them are Creative Commons-licensed. The photos below represent a haphazardly curated sample of photos on Flickr which included this word in their name and which clearly represented photographers in the act of learning.
The photographs below, as well as many more that I did not include here, are interesting to me as artifacts because the photographers behind them probably never expected these photographs to get much attention, and because these kinds of photographs were never available to complete strangers before digital photography created instant finished photos from everything shot (as opposed to film negatives, from which bad photographs are rarely printed) and Flickr made photo storage so convenient and sharing so information-rich that photographers became willing and able to upload every random photograph they take.
For the photos that follow I have tried to select a sample of some technical challenges that photographers confront in trying to take interesting photographs, as well as a few that simply feel random, spontaneous, or otherwise unthinkable outside of the context of test shots.
As you might expect, many images that include the word "test" in their titles are not actual test shots but document tests that occurred outside of the camera - allergy tests, students taking exams, women proudly holding up home pregancy test results. Those would make an interesting curatorial blog post as well; I will create such a set soon but if you beat me to it, let me know and I'd love to link to you.

[Jakob Montrasio]

I found many of these photos interesting because the photographer selected his or her subject and technique based on criteria quite different from those they use when they know what they're doing. It is easy to read some of them as thus more instinctual, less guarded, or in other cases simply more randomly composed, but it is difficult to know with certainty which is the case. As someone who looks at photographs every day, photographs like these share the stimulating characteristic of old snapshots and "found" photographs in that they help clear my mental cache and challenge me to examine what makes photographs interesting or attractive to me. In this context, the beautiful can quickly become boring, and the ugly, the thoughtless, or the damningly nonspecific can take on new meaning and interest. Others have both beauty and an intrinsic strangeness going for them.


[Oliver Hammond/olivander]

[Pat Joyce/phatcontroller]


The exercise reminded me of a recent post by photographer-poet Matthew Hollett (not pictured above) on his engaging blog oughtful. Describing the Yashica-Mat LM camera he purchased recently and has been learning about, he offers artful personification:
It is a stout, serious camera, its twin lenses like thick spectacles, tilted sidelong. It lifts its lid as if tipping its hat. It is habitually quiet, at least it likes to think so; its hearing is not what it used to be. It is polite to the point of being reticent, and a bit of a pessimist. It believes since there is nothing good to say it is better to say nothing at all. It reads the newspaper every day. It is observant, but slightly farsighted, and keeps a minimum distance of 3.2 feet from the subject of its scrutiny. It prefers overcast days, and autumn. It likes books without pictures, or books with nothing but pictures, but not both at the same time.
Thanks to all who grant CC licenses to their Flickr shots. I particularly encourage you to check out the excellent portfolios of all of these photographers (the links below their photographs lead into their photostream) to see some of their more "intentional" work!

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