Saturday, 14 July 2012

The story of a photo I put on facebook

I don't post photographs on Facebook very often, and if I do they tend to be ones I've taken with my mobile phone. I am completely aware that, once a picture is put up on Facebook, it is stripped of its metadata and it becomes an orphan work. This means that Facebook can do with it what it wants... including selling it to outside parties. Other users, too, can do what they want...

About a month ago, I posted this photo on Facebook. It was taken at a dance event (I do a lot of dancing, as regular readers will know) and it was taken with my "proper" camera. I decided to share it and some others on Facebook so that friends could see it. I had no idea it would be so popular, or inspire so many people.

©Bex Shaw

Firstly, a friend of a friend was inspired to use this photograph as a basis for a drawing. I liked this, and I was flattered that she felt inspired to make this lovely drawing. She shared it in the comments of my photograph and she has given me permission to post it on here, although she says it's just rough and needs more work. Her name is Bex Shaw, and you should spend a bit of time looking at her artwork on her Flickr site. It's well worth it!

Then, I noticed these. And I'm not terribly pleased with them. If I wanted this picture to be black and white, I'd have done it myself. If I wanted it to be weird washed out retro, I'd have done it myself. I'm a photographer, and I only publish photos I have retouched and am happy with; this is how I want them to be seen. I am annoyed that, because it's a photograph and in the public domain, someone feels as though they can change it to how they'd like to see it. They wouldn't dream of taking a  paintbrush to a painting which wasn't theirs, would they? They wouldn't turn the hem up of a dress which wasn't theirs... so why alter a photograph which isn't theirs?

The answer lies in this confusing medium we call photography. Wonderful because it is democratic; everyone can take a picture and everyone understands the visual language. But this is also its downfall; it is still not considered an art in the same way as painting. And the digital world has accentuated this; everyone is a photographer now, and everyone has access to filters and apps which can add a certain atmosphere or character to any photograph.

I also think that many facebook users are not aware of the sensibilities of the photographer, and how close we are to our work. I suprise myself, actually, at my reaction to seeing these. I am seething... and for what? She hasn't made any money from them, she is just having a bit of fun and perhaps experimenting with some new filters. Although she is getting the credit for them, which bugs me as she hasn't credited me in any way. But more importantly it's made me realise first hand how vulnerable we are to copyright infringement when it comes to posting images on the web. Something which I am telling my students constantly; perhaps I should practice what I preach.


  1. In relation i have been locking out my photo albums on Facebook for a while (I'm now the only one who can view most of them). For a long time I have been very much a 'sharer' when it comes to imagery, i didn't think that would change, but it has. It's both fascinating an unnerving how far images on the Internet can travel. Nice article!

    1. Thanks Kevin... although I'm not sure the point of putting pics on FB if you're the only one who can view them?! It is a shame that we have to be so guarded when sharing our images...

  2. One option may be to place the pictures in FB in only a thumbnail size, then let your friends know (outside FB) the password to a protected gallery on, for example, this website. Most of the usual web-gallery software-apps have this functionality and it could solve the problem. You can then have the news/social-media aspect covered by FB and also some security of use by having a separate limitation on viewers of the higher quality images.


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