Since the internet has matured and standards emerged, a revolution of access has occurred. Never before has the potential audience for art and culture stood so large or wide-reaching. Here, now, viewers can see so much. The presentation is then only limited by the hardware the viewer has at their disposal, which is improving at a lightning pace thanks to Moore’s Law and the conformation of display resolutions to the 1080p standard, which remains impressive years after introduction – 1920×1080 is still a healthy amount of pixels.
As a dabbler in various arts, photography among them, which I will focus on here – I have devoted a non-trivial amount of thought to the question of the internet/web side of presentation’s importance. In the past, I wondered: should the web page function only as a gateway to the real work – the work to be sold, fought over, the work most will consider original? Should the web page limit the viewer, restrict them, tie them down, punish and move them to another place where the full quality of the work can be “unlocked” or bought? Should the creator of the work enact restrictions that prevent the viewer from saving the photo, or looking upon it at a high resolution, or printing it out themselves?
I say no. While my love for the the silver-gelatin print, the screen print, or the carefully printed digital copy will never wane, not all people require or appreciate those method’s subtleties and can observe and enjoy my work perfectly adequately on a screen. I do, of course, remain interested in selling real darkroom prints of my film work, real screen prints and high-quality giclee reproductions of the digital photography I produce. Surely. But in spite of this desire I will never neglect or treat as unimportant the presentation of the work on this web site in the interest of forcing viewers to buy something from me.
To this end, I have committed to improving the transmission of my photos to the viewer in a way that takes advantage of the hardware available to them while removing annoyances and barriers to their enjoyment and convenience. Using WordPress, this arrangement lies within reach, at the minimal cost of a few plugins, design decisions and choices of philosophy governing distribution in our era. For many, this site will be the gallery – some will never again find opportunity to view my work in another venue and in the interest of fostering a connection to the work, I will always offer the best I can, here.
Annoyances and inconveniences so far addressed:
Grouping of images:
There exist two opposing concepts of image presentation on the internet. One requires no input from the viewer, the other forces the viewer to work and click and hassle to see things.
The former, exemplified in the automatic slideshow, may seem convenient on the surface but actually neglects a hugely important consideration which greatly affects viewers’ engagement: time spent with the work.
A viewer may wish to gaze at one picture longer than the other, for mysterious and beautiful reasons far away from the scope of this post. A slideshow may transition to the next thing in a fixed amount of time and can break a viewer’s immersion in a particular photo, forcing more work upon them to click back to it. The opposite is also common, where a viewer wishes to skip ahead and is forced to click a button repeatedly to move forward.
Clicking tiny boxes or arrows over and over again is a punishment. Why punish the viewer? Why force them to act with precision to view something you want them to see? If a barrier of annoyance is erected between the two, the viewer may end up associating the work itself with annoyance – definitely something to be avoided!
The easiest, most accessible method to parse content is to scroll up and down with the scrollbar, keyboard keys, mouse wheel, or by dragging a finger or stylus on touch devices. This relies on basic, ubiquitous tools the audience is familiar with – no weird HTML buttons or rules or timers or stuff to break. I call this “natural scrolling” as this type is the default way to scroll among a wide range of operating systems and devices. Up and down.
To take advantage of “natural scrolling”, I place all images on the same page, and since most browsers load all images on the page at once no matter if the viewer can see them or not, the viewer may be inconvenienced by slow loading of photos if there are many in the set. This burden is multiplied if the viewer is connecting through a mobile device with limited bandwidth speeds available.
A WordPress site can force restraint upon the default tendency in most browsers to load all images at once through the use of one of many WordPress plugins designed to confine the images loaded at once to those only within the viewer’s field of view at the time – more pictures load as the page is scrolled down. I like BJ Lazy Load because of its many options and active maintenance by the creator, Bjørn Johansen, but a few others are available that also function well, including Unveil Lazy Load and Advanced Lazy Load.
Progressive loading can especially help mobile users to view the work faster by devoting their limited bandwidth speed to only those images within the current viewable area of their device. Further negative effects avoided through progressive loading is the punishment of wasted bandwidth if a viewer becomes uninterested or distracted and closes the browser or clicks away after only scrolling through a few pictures.
Scaling of images:
There is no way to be sure how much screen real-estate the viewer has available to devote to images. The viewer, at one extreme, may enjoy the use of a powerful iMac with a 27″ display and impressive 2560 by 1440 resolution, perhaps placed on a desk facing a comfortable chair. At the other, a busy commuter may have stumbled upon the pictures on their smartphone while riding a train to work. Maybe the viewer is a multitask master and keeps multiple windows or tabs open at once or perhaps the viewer likes small windows. How will the images survive all of these different screen resolutions intact, and with integrity?
With the advent and acceptance of CSS, image dimensions must no longer be hard coded. The browser knows how much resolution is available to the user and this is stored as a variable. By specifying
max-height as percentiles (I like 80%), images will enlarge and shrink dynamically and immediately as the window size changes, giving the percentage not assigned to the image to the image’s margin. Read more about “fluid images” and their history in a good post by Chris Coyie here.
Unfortunately, resizing images dynamically results in an unfortunate side effect, namely…
The incorrect, enlarged display of fluid portrait images:
I prefer to present all photos in a set on the same page for simplicity, to enforce the images’ importance as a true set, and because the configuration allows for natural scrolling. This requires mixing portrait (vertically-oriented) and landscape (horizontally-oriented) images together, because I like both.
Since fluid images will scale until they hit a border, landscape images, which are wider than tall, will hit the walls of their container before their vertical dimension grows too much. Of all the images on the web, the great majority are wider than tall so this mostly works.
Sadly, portrait images will always appear HUGE when following the same rules, because they will grow and grow and only hit the walls of their container, tragically, after their vertical dimensions have surpassed the vertical resolution available to the viewer’s browser. This scales a portrait image outside of the available display resolution to the viewer, resulting in the image appearing far too tall and forcing the viewer to scroll up and down to see the image entirely, or download it to view in a program which scales it correctly. If you care about consistent and enjoyable presentation of photos, this is not acceptable!
I wrote about this problem a few months ago, when first encountered while assembling pictures as vertically scrolling photo-essays on this site. Read the linked post for more information. To summarize, though – the fix, at least for WordPress users, lies in a plugin called Vertically Responsive Images, written by Evan Solomon. It commands fluid images which are taller than wide to resize, dynamically, to the user’s window height and thus, lansdcape and portrait images may finally work well together.
Appropriate vertical isolation between images:
Between every photo I post here as part of a set, I insert a certain amount of line breaks to ensure each image will sit far enough above and below the next to avoid crowding. This solution works for now but the included WordPress editor inconveniently strips out <br> and <p> tags it considers superfluous when the user switches between the HTML and WYSIWYG editor for posts and pages. Since I usually switch between both several times while assembling a photo page, a way around this weird line-break stripping is really helpful – the “feature” can result in time wasted adding them back and create frustration generally, but especially when the work is time-sensitive.
To eliminate this problem one may utilize the TinyMCE plugin, written by Andrew Ozz. The tool replaces the built-in WordPress post editor with one of more power, but most importantly adds the capability to remove the tendency of WordPress to strip line-break markup from posts, put there by the author for good reasons. By default, this capability of TinyMCE is NOT enabled, and must be enabled by checking a box on the plugin’s settings page.
Purity of the work:
I do not worry about the “theft” of my photos through downloading, re-appropriation or aggregation into channels I am unaware of and/or don’t control (with one exception, see below). I do not worry that if my work enters the wild another individual will receive credit, or that no one will and the recognition will fly away. Because I do not worry about these things, I do not watermark my photos.
I will not obfuscate the location of image files through scripts or other ridiculous restrictions on the viewer’s experience, nor will I only upload ridiculously low-resolution reductions of the work to discourage home printing.
First – if at all possible, nothing should be shared on the internet that the creator wishes to keep to themselves. The internet is not a person, nor something that can be reasoned with, so for the purposes of content it functions as a perpetually active copying machine, occasionally drawing a dick on there somewhere. “Art” – pictures and music and movies and writing – is to the eyes of the internet, simply content, and content will be copied and modified and changed and ripped apart and recombined until the internet falls. No one’s work is immune because no one’s work is special. The work should be kept locked up if the creator does not wish to grant it immortality in this fashion. If the work gets out, it’s gone, and there is nothing to be done. Attempts to regain control lost through release may persuade the Streisand Effect to roar out from the darkness.
Watermarks, in my opinion, mar and disfigure photographic work, both visually and conceptually. In addition to offending visually, watermarks also remind the viewer that the creator can act as possessive, entitled human like everybody else. And in the act reminding the viewer of this – that the artist who made the piece you stare at now considers the work as functioning in some type of business-universe – the art suffers. Also, I would rather not transmit elements of my personality through my work as a side-effect of DRM (which I consider digital watermarking to be), which I have universally despised since the deCSS controversy and resultant spawning of so-called “illegal numbers” , a concept so completely ridiculous and offensive to basic common sense, intellectual decency and liberty I am surprised Ben Franklin’s shaking, frothing corpse failed to rise out of Christ Church Burial Ground and tear us all down for ruining his idea of a Great Democracy.
The purity of the work can also be negatively affected by the creator’s actions after the work is done. In my opinion, the art is harmed if the creator offers their ideas as to the meaning or value of the work they created, and this should be avoided. The AV Club write a piece some time ago (looking for it…) which discussed how certain favorite works of its writers had suffered interpretive degradation as a result of learning the creator’s opinion of the “true” meaning of the work. The most important thing a creator can do post-creation, therefore, is to actively protect the world from what the creator thinks their work is or represents.
The choices I make in presenting my photos to others will always err on the side of caution to avoid influencing how the work is interpreted. My job is not to encourage or discourage the public’s ideas about it – that should be left alone as a gift to viewers, so they may arrive at their own meaning.
I consider it a duty to always provide high resolution version of my photos, a reduction occurring only out of concern for the average viewer’s bandwidth and my ability to store large photos online. These large versions may be accessed through a single click of the photo displayed on this site.
I will never intentionally discourage copying or viewer-initiated printing of the photographs I have captured and made available here. Perhaps eventually, a viewer interested in a physical copy of the work and may choose to pay me to provide it, and that would be a nice thing – but I will never remove the viewer’s option to do as they wish.
Changing, modifying or utilizing my work as a part of something else is always allowed. Experiment with it. Remix it, blow it up and glue it back together, sew its head onto the corpse of something else. I will not restrict or hold the viewer in contempt for curiosity or a desire to use my work as a stepping stone to the viewer’s own betterment through artistic endeavor. I will not become angry if a Reddit user posts an image I have produced to /r/pics without attribution. Attribution is nice, and I do it myself when sharing others’ work, but if this isn’t done for me I wish my work well in its permanent and immortal existence as a ghost in the wires.
I would, of course, prefer that people not take credit for and sell copies my work, unless they have modified and made it their own somehow; the Creative Commons license I have selected to attach to my work allows for a bit of control in managing outright for-profit plagiarists (although I would prefer to have granular control over what rights are granted to specific groups), but in the end I can really only rely on social pressure to ensure this situation stays a hypothetical.
The quality of the photos I post here is paramount. The photographs will always look the best I can manage.
Regarding payment and attribution
Personally and informally, I think acknowledging where a work originated is polite and helpful to the artistic and cultural community. In my own activities I try to promote the work and recognition of artists I respect, because I wish them success and want them to produce more work.
But formally, the only entities I wish to receive payment or attribution from by the use of my work are successful news agencies and publications, wire services or magazines. If they are still in business, they are making money, and if any of my photography or writing helps to sell their media I would prefer attribution and payment, if only because payment would enable me to travel to where news is happening, and publishing recognition may allow me to discover future access to people or situations previously unavailable. Individuals are encouraged to do what they wish.
I am aware that as long at this restriction stays in place, the work does not fit all requirements of compatibility with “free culture“.