I should warn the unwary reader that this blog post most emphatically does not include pornographic photographs or anything particularly rude or lascivious—at least not as defined by the US Supreme court in Miller v California (1973), which established a three-pronged (heh, he said “pronged”) test: 1. “Average-person-applying-contemporary-community standards; 2. Activity defined by state law; or 3. Lack of serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. (I knew those years in law school would pay off someday, if only in the ability to write a very thorough Disclaimer.) One photo does, however, include a Very Naughty Word printed on the subject’s t-shirt, but I’ll give you fair warning and you can feel free to close your eyes at that point.)
I suppose from an SEO standpoint I could hardly have chosen a better title for this entry. Other than getting fairly specific with metadata references to specific body parts, orientations, and fetishes, the title alone should generate a fair amount of traffic to my little backwater of occasional bloviations. No matter that breathless web-surfers who find their way here expecting one thing will be almost immediately sent storming away by the mere fact that there are words here rather than freeFreeFREE video clips; I will have captured their eyeballs for my web analytics and boosted my usage metrics, which would be significant if I were running a particularly commercial site, which for the most part I do not appear to be doing. Never mind that the bounce rate will be Rather High; I just want to be seen. More than just lookyloos, though; I want people to link through to look at my photos. And a pony; a pony would be nice too. Glitter. Also world peace.
But that’s not the point here. (By the way, I’m starting to notice a pattern in my writing of these things, which is I tend to start off almost instantly with a digression, then wend my way back to the topic, take several darting trips elsewhere, and end up more or less where I’m supposed to be. (I knew those years of structural and semiotic literary analysis as a graduate student in English would pay off someday!) For this, I apologize, although I do not promise any particular relief anytime soon. I am, as they say, what I am.)
I have 2 photographic presences on the Internet: On the “public” site, Flickr, I tend to post lots of photos of vacations, events, pets, or other stuff. It’s sort of a social media thing. At EButterfield Photography on Photoshelter I focus more on the best-of those, and more commercial, editorial, and (though I hesitate to say it) artistic photos. It’s a bit schizophrenic, but it seems to make sense to me. Flickr tracks views and other activity very visibly, so it’s easy for me to see which photos people seem to find interesting (more on that in a moment). Photoshelter is a bit more complex to track, but the tracking is much more granular and statistically useful. The point here is that on those occasions when I post photos to my Flickr site that include any amount of exposed flesh, those photos skyrocket in viewership. No matter that they may be photographically inferior to other, less fleshy photos, or that the shirtlessness involved may not even be central to the photograph’s actual subject, the views pour in.
Everyone, it seems, likes a nice set of pecs and abs.
What’s interesting to me is that on an Internet with so many flavors of full-throated pornography for those so inclined to enjoy, there would be any particular prurient interest in relatively demur photos of semi-naked gentlemen not engaged in particularly erotic behaviors, and generally wearing more clothing than they would on a typical day at the beach.
(I’m referring here, obviously, to varieties of street photography, not to posed nudes. Those latter, for the most part, I keep secured behind a password on EButterfield Photography, with only the most innocent included in my public portfolio.)
So here’s the thing: Regardless of the quality of the photo involved, a photo of a half-naked guy will always, forever, without exception generate more views on Flickr than a photo with any other subject matter, regardless of the comparable artistic or topical nature of the two images. A photo of President Obama walking down a street in Long Beach eating an ice cream cone would simply not generate as many “views” as some anonymous and not necessarily buff young man dancing on a flatbed with his shirt off.
Let me be clear: I’m not in any way condemning photos of athletic and handsome young men dressed only in jeans and hiking boots. It is totally true that I have taken those photos, and equally true that I have chosen to display them, legitimately, as images from public events (and not for sale). I posted them, and assigned tags and accepted invitations to link them to various groups. So I’m not saying I’m a poor abused innocent whose gentle artistry is being hijacked by Morlocks. I’m merely observing.
Some of these photos are posed, some are “street photography” in the sense that the subjects were out and about in public, engaged in public activities. I’m not lurking in the bushes taking random photos of unsuspecting sunbathers (at least not any more). To my mind, surfers are engaged in a public activity and are fair game. A parade is “street photography” at its most obvious: People are walking down the middle of the street, and their expectation of privacy is low. Ditto for street performers tumbling around on a pier. And the photos aren’t, in my view, entirely prurient either: These young men have worked hard to look like they do, they’ve gone to some trouble to display themselves. That I enjoy looking at them through the viewfinder is, to my mind, sexually irrelevant; I like looking at kittens and birds and snails, too, and I have no wicked intentions about them at all. Sadly, perhaps due to my relentlessly advancing age, the gentlemen are merely objects for collecting light and shadow more than anything physically alluring. I know pornography when I see it, and this ain’t it.
Anyway, case in point, this photo from the 2012 Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride Parade:
The young men in this photo were in the parade on behalf of a local moving company, which obviously has a marketing person who knows about how to appeal to specific audiences. Within seven days, the photo on Flickr had generated over 600 views, which is a fair number in a short time. Three months later, that has grown to 2,076, with additional views in the double digits still being added every day.
This photo, on the other hand, which I think is more interesting, was posted last year and still has only 265 views.
This one is from a similar parade in Chicago in 2007, and has been viewed nearly 11,000 times:
Not all the photos from Pride events have skin, and some of those even generate activity on Flickr. This one, for instance, (which I call “Diversity” for obvious reasons) is from the 2010 parade, and has racked up 1,212 views (a nice number, but hardly in the shirtless realm):
And this photo, which I just love as both a photo generally and a character study in particular, from the 2009 parade, has been looked at only 802 times:
[NSW BAD WORD WARNING]
(Seriously, a photo with a Very Bad Word in it is coming right up)
(Also, there’s a Rather Rude Gesture, too, so Be Warned)
[ALL SAFE NOW]
It’s interesting that on my Flickr site, of the top-twenty most-viewed photos, 17 are of random attractive men, 16 of whom are shirtless (accounting for over 135,000 individual views). The two that don’t fall into that category are outliers in more ways than one, and I’m at a bit of a loss to explain their apparent wild popularity.
One is a not-spectacular photo of the late Jonathan Frid (he who played Barnabas Collins on the original US soap opera in the late 1960s) at a Dark Shadows Convention in Burbank (yes I was there and you just be quiet).
There are many elderly Frid fans out in the world, I suppose; plus he recently enjoyed somewhat heightened visibility thanks to the fairly dreadful Tim Burton “Dark Shadows” movie starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas. (Immediately prior to the film’s release, Frid had the good sense to shuffle off his mortal coil and retire permanently to a locale in which his legacy was, presumably, less egregiously disresepected.)
The other one is a real head-scratcher. It’s a photo of a 1939 painting, “The Awakening of the Forest” by Paul Delvaux, displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago.
While it does arguably include vastly more nudity than my Pride Parade photos, we’re talking lithe little fairyfolk here in a surrealist setting that’s generated over 7,500 views since late 2007. Either some people will go way out of their way to seek out nudity online, or there’s an art history class somewhere that’s using a link to this one.
I maintain the Flickr site because I’m obsessed with eyeballs, and my “serious professional” site, EButterfield Photography, has generated just under 2,000 views (and a few commercial sales and portrait jobs) since it was launched with moderate fanfare almost a year ago. On that site, interestingly, shirtless men do not drive viewership. My most-viewed image is this one:
And this generated as much activity as the movers from Pride on the same site:
The ultimate point for me, I guess, is that dammit I have some really nice arty, editorial, and worthy images on the Web; why do folks flock to snapshots of boys who’ve taken off their shirts to show that they’ve been to the gym in recent memory? (I suppose I could also ask why, if I’m so annoyed by the behavior of that particular audience, do I persist in posting the things? That, it seems to me, is an impertinent and impolite question, so we’ll just pretend that no one asked it and just move on.) For now, I’ll just opine that generating views on Flickr has become one of my hobbies, related to photography, and that overall my Flickr site (yeah and I’m shilling it here by constantly including links, so aren’t I just the big old hypocrite) has generated over 2 MILLION views since I first started populating it five years ago, and that just puffs up my ego all over the place. I’m a sad and shallow man, reliant on external approval to confirm my self-worth.