Happy Birthday, Flickr!

Flickr turned 20 years old last weekend.

While it may have lost some of its original lustre in recent years, Flickr was, is, and remains one of the prime sites for amateur and professional photographers alike.

It is the OG of photo sharing sites. Flickr managed to survive multiple changes of ownership despite becoming something of a running gag for a period.

It was August 2005 when I signed up, armed with wanderlust and a new 5 megapixel Fujifilm camera. I was ready to share the captured sights and wonders of the world around me.

Plastic flowers for sale at the Oriental Plaza, Johannesburg

Since I knew there’s no way I would compete with far more advanced or prolific photographers and their fancy Canon EOS 300D/Digital Rebel cameras, Flickr’s free tier (restricted to a maximum of 200 photos at the time) was quite adequate for my humble needs. I felt a member of a community and an even larger sense of excitement when one of my photos was selected to appear in a real book. Others turned up on various random sites. When I noticed that many of my photos were of landscapes and cities (ergo: geographically relevant but artistically uninteresting), I moved those over to Panoramio while the best of the best went up on 500px. One must diversify.

Although not ostensibly a photo-centric social media site like Instagram, Flickr does sport a few community interaction features, and it’s had those since before social media became this beast absorbed via vertical mobile devices. Back then, photographs were taken by cameras and admired — as they ought to be — via large, widescreen desktop monitors.

Flickr's home page in 2005 (image via Web Design Museum)

In fact, I almost felt ashamed when I uploaded my first smartphone photo back in 2008 but I’m not sure when and how freakish Second Life atrocities (NSFW) ever came to be regarded as “photography”. Flickr is neither DeviantArt nor Pinterest or Tumblr; it should not be the place where you show off your thicc booty or what you’re having for breakfast. Keep that shit on Instagram, thank you very much!

All was well with the world until Google pulled the plug on Panoramio in 2016. Although alternatives (both paid and free) have always existed, I was reluctant to reinvest time and effort for fear of them being wasted yet again. Unsplash or Google Maps/Places/Photos didn’t fit the bill — nor do I trust them.

Flickr, too, fell into a state of dire uncertainty, and I eventually lost interest… until now.

My recent photo digitisation project made me rediscover Flickr in a manner akin to meeting an old friend who had recently beaten cancer. Flickr has, meanwhile, returned to its core audience of enthusiasts and professional photographers after it was “saved” from the clueless clutches of corporate greed by a small operation named SmugMug.

Sure, Second Life monstrosities, big booty, amateur porn, and middle-aged cross-dressers still abound and have recently been expanded by AI-generated artwork (another far cry from true photography) but they’re as much a part as the other millions of authentic and amazing images at what I consider a “World Wide Web Heritage Site”.

For an emotionally-laden and lengthy rant on the history and relevance of Flickr, may I point you to this phenomenal post by Ferdy Christant? You can thank me afterwards.

Happy Birthday, Flickr! Here’s to many more.

All photos by hmvh.net unless noted otherwise.

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