Saturday, April 25, 2009

A gypsy in the city and some thoughts about Flickr

Paul Passes Through, Bush Street, San Francisco, September 2007.

I was stepping out of my office building to have a quick smoke when I saw this man playing his accordion across the street. Awash in harsh light with wild shaggy hair, moustache, goatee, and a bright orange kerchief wound tightly around his neck, he looked like a gypsy lost in the city. I took out my handy Leica and started snapping pictures of him from afar. In my viewfinder, I saw him staring at me, and I mimed him a wordless "may I?" and he nodded yes and motioned me to come closer. His name is Paul, a Polish musician from Syracuse. I mistook him for a busker and offered him money, which he refused. He was just passing through, he said, on his way to San Diego where he is writing and playing music for a troupe of street actors. You look like a gypsy, I said. He slapped his accordion and guffawed. "Well, in a way I am," he said.

This picture of Paul was cited in The Online Photographer in an article by New York Times writer Howard French. In his thoughful essay, Howard writes in defense of Flickr, the online photo sharing community. Flickr has been ridiculed as nothing more than a repository for children's pictures, flower macros, and overexposed holiday shots of sunsets. Howard disagrees and so do I. Unlike Photobucket or Multiply or Picasa, Flickr is a real community. I've been lucky to know many Flickr photographers who share the same passion for creating images and looking at photographs. We critique each other's works, share tips and techniques, exchange Photoshop macros, trade prints, talk about gear and other objects of desire, call each other's attention to noteworthy books. We also talk about our kids, exchange recipes, and, on occasion, take pictures together. A Flickr photographer from Sardegna became a good friend and has invited me to his wedding. Two very talented Norwegian photo enthusiasts, buddies in real life, are my email pals. We talk about our work, our many frustrations, photographers, and Joni Mitchell.

I met Palanca prize-winning writer Willie Pascual through Flickr. His traveling notebook project, Lagalag: The Traveling Journal of Filipinos, brought together twenty Filipino photographers to tell their stories in pictures. Two notebooks, filled with photographs and mementos and confessions, journeyed to 10 destinations in the Philippines and 10 destinations in foreign countries. Two years later, the journey of the notebooks is almost complete.

So beware the snob who derides Flickr in my presence because he's in for a good fight. Nothing has inspired me more than the virtual presence of Flickr photographers looking over my viewfinder with their critical eyes.


  1. Having followed your postings of photos on Flickr for quite some time, I look forward now to the stories behind the photos. Expect the blog will be as enriching as your photostream.

  2. Emmanuel, I really like your Idea of giving more background to some of your pictures. Also, in particular, I like your arguments in favor of flickr.
    In finding my favorite photographers, marking them my contacts, I have an instant ever changing photo gallery at the distance of an arm at any time. In return I find it an obligation to comment and give feedback to those very talented photographers who share their work with the rest of us whenever I like, and even in some cases dislike, pictures posted.
    Thanks for being and continuously contributing to flickr community!

  3. I am missing a lot, just realized it. I dont know your flickr site. Now i have to search it, do i have an easy way to find out?