Open Source Your Photography

Years ago Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, stirred up a hornet’s nest after she made some comments about the purchase of Flickr, the seminal photo-sharing site.

“There’s no such thing as Flickr Pro, because today, with cameras as pervasive as they are, there is no such thing really as professional photographers … certainly, there is varying levels of skills, but we didn’t want to have a Flickr Pro anymore; we wanted everyone to have professional-quality photos, space and sharing.” via CNET

She pissed off long-time Flickr Users who were upset that their work was being discredited.

I worked on a storyboard, planned an entire shoot, and executed it nearly flawlessly

Mayer quickly issued an apology but the damage was done, an exodus to Instagram and Facebook started. Some groups collapsed, friends went silent (they started posting on FB), and some diehards dug in.

I stuck around till 2020 or so and then deleted my entire corpus of work. This was mostly due to the disgust I felt after seeing how old shutterbugs fought over Trump and his politics. There was a stark divide between the Pro and Anti-Trump camps that sent the Pro-Trump people to FB and left the mostly Anti-Trump people on Flickr.

I look back at that decision and realize it was a mistake. It was a mistake for me to delete years worth of work and then enter my Covid19 isolation cave.

I hid in my cave until I started writing on Medium and realized how much I missed making photos, so in May 2021 I had a chance to wake from my slumber. Freshly vaccinated, I stumbled out of my cave and started to upload old work on Flickr again. Then I went to a photoshoot at my friend’s studio.

Art Model Lucy Magdalene © Thomas Ott

You know what? I started to work again and it felt good. I found old archived images and post-processed them better than ever before. I looked at my old work with new eyes and made them better.

I started to feel inspired again.

I made a new circle of friends and started helping them with their photo work.

I worked on a storyboard, planned an entire shoot, and executed it nearly flawlessly.

Art Model Lucy Magdalene © Thomas Ott

I started to feel inspired again.

Then I got a wild hair up my butt. What if I was looking at this whole photography thing all wrong? What if I took Marissa’s attitude shared my work with the world?” Yes, I do it on Flickr but actually share it?”

What if I open-sourced my images for others to use? What if people use my images for their Medium image banners, what if bands and musicians use my work for covers, what if other artists riff on my work with theirs?

What if I added to an ongoing creative conversation where my work becomes part of a larger work of the world, instead of toll-gating it away?

I took the first step in that direction by completely giving away, stripping myself of all rights, of the following image.

Stump Puffball Mushrooms — WikiCommons

I took this cute photo of edible stump puffball mushrooms in October this year and then gave it away to WikiCommons.

Sure my name is attached to it as the photographer but maybe a research scientist could use this image in a report or something else. Maybe a band could use it for their new album, whatever. My work is out there to be used and that feels damn good.

So I started opening up more work as I upload and repopulate my old work. Of course, some work I can’t open-source but I recently opened up my wonderful photo of my daughter on top of the Empire State Building.

You have to share what you see with the world.

On top of the Empire State Building © Thomas Ott — used with permission

This photo is by far the most popular photo in my Flickr account by far.

And now, the bigger issue and the impetus for this entire essay.

Your photography will do no one any good if it’s not seen. In order for you to get better with your art, you have to share it. You have to get critique, good and bad. You have to share what you see with the world.

Yes, there are people like Vivian Maier who just shot and hid the undeveloped rolls away, never bringing any of her work to light, but those people are rare.

Of course, you can set attribution license terms or only non-commercial use if that’s your goal, but just like with popular open-source software, getting people to use your work only enhances your standing as an artist. It gets your work into the hands of more people faster.

Best of all? It makes you a better photographer.