The photographs we take of ourselves, or have taken of us, are the visual record of our existence in the world. However, we are finding that occasionally they will go on to live lives without us, in darker, or more abstracted places than we ever imagined. Our images become involuntary nomads, displaced across the internet to places we don’t predict, permit, or have knowledge of.
Read on: Ghost Stories
Natalie Kane’s ‘Ghost Stories’ is a fascinating article, discussing what happens to photographs once they’re online, whether simply in the cloud, or used for a particular purpose. Some very thought-provoking, salient points raised.
hoarder archivist at heart, I have a shedload of digital photographs stored on various services, and quite often they’re of people. Although I tend to just dump photos online and forget about them, I’ve occasionally had polite requests to remove, or at least make private, certain images of friends of mine from the past.
It’s not because they’re embarrassing or offensive or anything like that. It’s more akin to just quietly covering over their digital footprint. And that’s absolutely fine, and I respect their wishes.
But having that much control over your own images is just the thin end of a rather frightening wedge discussed above. What if you have no control whatsoever about how your images is being used?
On a related, lighter note, I received a comment on one of my photographs on Flickr the other day, informing me that the image had been used to illustrate an article on wired.com.
The image, of a mural in Manchester’s Northern Quarter depicting Edward Snowdon (sic), has, much like most (all?) of my Flickr images, been made available under a Creative Commons licence. The licence allows anyone to re-use my photographs in any way they like, as long as I receive a credit, and it’s not used commercially.
You could argue that, with wired.com using ads, the image and article are enabling Wired to receive revenue, but I think that’s one step removed from proper commercial use. For example, if the image was used in Wired magazine, I’d possibly feel a little different.
Overall, I was thrilled to find out the image had been used. My only reservation was that I only found out about it thanks to someone thoughtfully commenting on it on Flickr – otherwise I don’t think I’d have stumbled on it. And whilst it’s not a requirement that the author/publisher informs the photographer under these terms, it’s still pretty cool and something of an ego boost.
In the past, when photographs of mine have been used in Wikipedia articles, the hard-working editor has dropped me a comment to let me know, which always feels good.
It was also interesting and pleasant to receive a comment on Flickr shortly after the article’s publication, providing details of the mural’s artist, and asking that I credit them in the photo’s description. I of course obliged – only too happy to add more useful metadata to the image itself.
Two other thoughts that this use of my photograph raised:
First: I may or may not have agreed with the gist of the article using the image. Would that make me feel more or less thrilled about its use?
Second: It’s arguable that the actual ‘image’ being used in the article is the mural itself rather than the photograph (which was, afterall, ‘just’ an iPhone snapshot). And yet I receive the credit as the photographer (or, more importantly, the person who shared the image online). But that’s a rather more philosophical question which, along with the subject of the mural/photograph and its use, could spiral into a very longwinded conversation…