Voting on a Masterpiece Out of Context


A few years ago, I was invited by photographer and Flickr superuser Thomas Hawk to join his DMU (Deleteme Uncensored): The Flickr Energizer Bunny. We keep going … and going …, which is a Flickr group that allows users to post photos for voting by Flickr users.

According to an excerpt from Hawk’s Flickrmail from the time (November 30, 2009):

Deleteme Uncensored is a critique group on Flickr. Photos are submitted to a voting pool where members vote on the photos and offer brief critiques. 10 saves and the photo is invited into the Lightbox, a portfolio for the group. 10 deletes and the photo is done. If you decide to join the group, please make sure that you read the rules and please make sure that you vote on all photos in the pool or a minimum of 15 before submitting your own photo for the first time.

I remember submitting a few photos over the course of a few weeks — during which time I did comment on the photos of others — and quickly became completely confused at the response to images, including mine. Not that I thought my photos were great (they were alright) but because the critiques seemed nonsensical and commercial looking image (sleek photos with crisp lighting) seemed to win.

I asked to interview Hawk at the time about this curious photo group but he never replied — I assume he wasn’t interested. I was curious what insight his online group gave us about the evolving aesthetics and taste of online communities. And now, I discovered (via Kotke) that André Rabelo may have had the same idea and launched his own experiment a while back by posting an iconic image by Henri Cartier-Bresson, a masterpiece of modern photography.

The EXTENSIVE response to the work is fascinating (many of the users voted to delete it), here is just a taste:

I’m not posting these to laugh at the responses, as art is subjective (even if we can agree on some aspects), but because it also raises questions about context. Namely, if someone had created that image today would it be still be considered a great photograph? I often wonder that when I visit many early photography exhibitions.

What I am really confused by is the criteria people use to judge photos, and to be honest, I’m often confused by how other critics (not to mention artists) judge the value of a photograph. I often find it easier to discuss painting, sculpture, installation, performance, video and even new media and street art, than photography with other art people. Am I alone in this?

How do you think this group of Flickr photographers would react to one of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s blurry art and architecture images? My guess, “deleteme.”

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