Flickr Stories - True Tales and Snapshots

I'm fond of taking pictures, but I am not a photographer. The noble endeavor of photography is an activity best avoided by non-arty philistines like me. I do, however, think of myself as an old school snapshot taker who loves to take pictures to tell a story. I am such an old school snapshot taker that I used to own and wield the lazy woman's snapshot machine, a Kodak Instamatic camera. Nothing fancy, everything was easy: Snap that E-Z loading film cartridge into the pocket sized Instamatic, aim, shoot, unload the cartridge, take it the drug store, pick up the snapshots one week later. And, woe to me if I forgot to order extra prints; Mom demands a set of pictures from the wedding, the baptism, and the vacation at Lake Tahoe ,and I will need to narrate each and every picture as she thumbs through the glossy photo stacks.

Digital cameras and Photoshop changed everything for this humble snapshot taker. With auto focus, it's still a simple matter of aiming and shooting, but now I can review the pics, like the moment the bride shoves cake into the groom’s mouth. I'd save that, but, if I'm feeling charitable, I could delete the pic where the groom blows frosting out of his nose. With Photoshop, this former Kodak Instamatic owner can mess with images like a 35 mm pro - deepening contrasts, messing with the dispersion of light, saturating colors and airbrushing away red eye and acne with just a click of the mouse. Finally, that trip to the drugstore is no longer necessary; we can print out as many copies our heart desires, including that obligatory set for Mom.

I started taking digital pictures at the same time I launched my personal blog. Nervously, I would insert one of my snapshots into a blog post, usually a safe subject like my kid and her friends throwing gang signs in their Halloween costumes. But, I would squirm with trepidation while clicking the publish button. I was actually showing the entire World Wide Web one of my photos, nay, a snapshot, of the kids throwing gang signs! These snapshots were once reserved only for my mother! Who do I think I am, a photographer? Poseur!

I didn't feel worthy treading into the photographers turf, a sacred ground where my snapshots would never qualify as a photograph. Real photographs consist of studies – the macro view of a flower’s stamens; the painstaking detail of a beaded Valentino gown; the solemn face of a Mexican child in her party dress. My snapshots do not have that singular, compelling power and they are certainly not statements. The pictures uploaded to my blog were included only as bits of illustration surrounded by text, like the "chapter books" we read as kids.

Then, like many online citizens in early 2005, I noticed flickr. Cool chick bloggers I admired like Heather Armstrong and Heather Champ - truly superb photographers, hardly snapshot takers - included rotating flickr galleries in the sidebars of their blogs. As a fairly new blogger, I wanted to embellish my site with all the new widgets, bells and whistles, so I dutifully signed up for a flickr account.

And, much to my delight, I discovered that flickr was teeming with snapshot takers and photographers who used their bandwidths to tell stories. Sometimes a story would be revealed in the captions of serial images. Or, one solitary image would provide the backdrop for a narrative. In some cases, flickr accounts take the role of a blog, with each uploaded image and description serving as a journal entry.

When I come across a great story, I save it in my flickr "favorites". Here are some gems from that collection:

From sakura's flickr photostream, a childhood memory comes alive. Sakura also blogs at the little things:

Reprinted here per terms of Creative Commons.


My first passport photo. My family moved to Canada from Japan in 1973? I remember the thunder storm and the turbulence in my first plane flight. The flight attendants were nice - I think they gave me some colouring books. Apparently I was scolded by my mother about wanting to take my favourite doll - there wasn't enough room. My mom feels guilty about that to this day... and I don't even remember that episode.


The backstory behind a curious hem on a jeans skirt, explained in lively and poignant detail by writer Kate Musgrove:

Reprinted here with permission from the author/photographer. Access to the author's flickr photostream through flickr membership and request from Kate Musgrove only.


Okay, the story behind the skirt: I got it when I was sixteen. It was a normal, ankle-length denim skirt. When I was eighteen, I took it on vacation to the Hamptons with my best friend. I was working in a hospice at the time and a weekend in the Hamptons was this otherwordly, decadent experience with things like sushi (for the first time ever) and art galleries with actual Warhols and Steven Spielberg walking down the street. While we were away I lost my bathing suit. Lost! My bathing suit! On vacation in the Hamptons. I am so smart. I went wading anyway, just to be in the ocean, wearing my denim skirt and my white tank from Lands End. (It was the nineties. I was a hospice worker. All my clothes came from Lands End.)

A wave came up and tipped me over and I was soaked from head to toe. I took off my skirt, put on a towel, and found this Bible Camp playing volleyball down the beach. They had just finished grilling dinner. Perfect! I borrowed their hot grill and grilled my skirt until it was dry. And then I put it back on without my underpants, which were of course still wet, and which I was not willing to dry to the Bible Camp grill.

The next time I washed the skirt, holes appeared. They were where scorch marks from grilling had weakened the fabric. The only possible solution was to patch! Or, to take the Grand Tetons National Park fabric that I had picked up in Wyoming (my boyfriend lived there) and make sort of… hem on the skirt. A Grand Tetons National Park hem.

Ergo, the skirt. Ten years after I bought it, it still fits. My husband hates it with the fire of a thousand suns, because 1. It makes me look like a dirty hippie 2. The Wyoming fabric reminds him that lo, I did much “backpacking” with other men before we met and 3. It really is, in all honestly, hideously ugly. I almost never wear it.

I paired it with a black tee and a jade necklace. My best friend, the same one from the Hamptons trip, gave it to me for my twenty-fourth birthday when we were living on Martha’s Vineyard together. She was dying of cancer. Everyday we flew tiny planes back and forth between MV and Hyannis for her radiation treatments. It was such a quiet September.


From Sashala, on the utter grief of losing a dear friend:

Reprinted here with permission of author/photographer.


It doesn't get any easier. Even after 17 years. She would have been 36 today. We should be having drinks and talking about the crazy things we did when we were young. I miss the life we should have had. I miss her so much.


I "met" both Kate Musgrove of the above story about the jeans skirt and "Nanirolls" through Contributing Editor Susan Wagner's popular flickr group, The Working Closet. Participants post photos of their everyday ensembles and, though that may sound fairly humdrum, it's one of the funniest and liveliest groups on all of flickr. I took a look at Naniroll's other photos and found this picture of her childhood home:

Reprinted here with permission of author/photographer.


While I was on Long Island this weekend, visiting a friend, we drove to Rockville Centre. I lived in this house for the first eight years of my life (with exception of my first 6 months in Malverne). I marveled at how small everything seemed compared to the picture I've carried around in my mind, from the perspective of an eight year old. When I was eight, the backyard was gigantic but when I peeked over the fence, it was not the size of a small park as I remembered. (The new owners put a POOL back there! It seemed sad to me, sacrificing all that great space for a swimming pool, that gets used, at best, maybe 4 months a year.)

The house itself was white with green shutters back then, so I don't know how I feel about these "Martha Stewart" colors.

Nanirolls also added a very funny memory in a flickr "note" adjacent to the front door:

1985: My older sister and I watched Hurricane Gloria from this spot, until my mother caught on, yelled at us and dragged us back into the house.


Beyond my list of flickr favorites is a veritable universe of flickr storytelling. The group, Pictures with Stories, requiring a minimum five sentences of accompanying text, offers a wealth of sad, funny and just dang interesting true stories. Here's an excerpt from Andrea R's 'Meghan's Quilt', one of the groups' 11, 245 images/stories:

Reprinted here per terms of Creative Commons.


...Five years ago, when we moved here, I noticed that the seams were coming undone on the front, the back was worn, the stuffing loose where it wasn't bunched and the hastily folded corners poking out and dragging everywhere. After many years of being loved to death by a little girl, and many trips through the washer, it was showing its age...

More flickr storytelling groups:

My Story
"Post a photo and write a story to go with it...This group is not about 'the story is in the photograph'. Make your story at least a couple of paragraphs."

Tell That Story
"Pictures with history. Pictures that make you want to tell the story about why it's important to you. Pictures that JUST have to have a story told."

Ticket Stub and a Story
"Scans or photos of ticket stubs with a related story in the description or comments. Any kind of ticket, any story - long or short, funny, sad or inspiring in any language."

You can peruse these and other flickr groups without signing up, but getting a flickr basic account (with a limited amount of image storage) is free. Why not upload your snapshots and tell your stories?

Flickr addict and Contributing Editor/Life, Grace Davis, has demonstrated considerable improvement in her photography skills, but her favorite subject continues to be of her kid throwing gang signs.


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