Free Tulip Wallpaper

On this blustery and unseasonably cold day, I offer you another free springy wallpaper for your computer. This is a photograph of a tulip that I took in our front garden just a few days ago. It makes a great wallpaper because it is colorful, cheerful, and has a fuzzy, uncluttered area all around the main subject, where your desktop icons won’t get lost.

tulip-1280x853

Go ahead, grab it. Absolutely free for personal use. There is a reasonable fee for editorial or commercial use (email me at blork | at | blork | dot | org). Potentially free for artistic/mashup purposes (email me and we’ll discuss it).

Here is the widescreen version (1680×1050).

Here is the standard 3:2 version (1280×853).

Don’t worry if your screen’s pixel count isn’t exactly the same as the images; your monitor will adjust accordingly. Just be sure to pick the right aspect ratio.

If you’re using Firefox, the easiest thing to do is click the appropriate link and load the picture in your browser. Then right-click and select “Set as desktop background.”

Enjoy!

Previous blork.org wallpaper giveaways are here and here.

Ripped Off?

A week ago Tuesday, I popped over to CTVmontreal.ca and happened upon a story about the Montreal Metro. Blah blah blah, whatever, and then I noticed the thumbnail image at the top of the story. Not a huge picture, just a stock image that they use for Metro stories when they have no story-specific images. It was a “photo illustration” of a moving Metro car overlaid with a photo of an exterior Metro sign.

The background part of the image looked familiar. Then I realized; holy crap! That’s my picture!

What I found on CTVmontreal.ca.

I had posted the original version of the image on the Monday Morning Photo Blog five years ago (January 17, 2005). I have never sold reproduction rights to it, nor has anyone asked me to use it for any purpose. And it is not a Creative Commons image (why it is not is a subject for another day.) Written very plainly on the page where the image appears is the text “All photographs taken, and copyright owned, by Ed Hawco. Please ask if you want to use any of these images for any purpose.

My original copyrighted image.

Clearly, this was a rip off. But what kind of a rip off? Possibilities include:

  1. CTVmontreal.ca as a corporation clearly and callously lifted the image from my photo blog without asking for permission.
  2. A specific half-wit at CTVmontreal.ca, bucked policy by clearly and callously lifting the image from my photo blog without asking for permission.
  3. CTVmontreal.ca obtained permission to use the image from someone other than me; a third party (person or agency) who stole my photo and is selling it as their own.

There are other possibilities too, but those are the most likely. I decided against number 1, which is the possibility that most knee-jerk reactors pounce on. My reason is simple: CTVmontreal.ca is not a thinking entity; it’s a corporation made up of people, and in all likelihood they have a policy against ripping off copyrighted work. Thus, if it was taken without permission, it was most likely a function of one rogue graphics dude who is too lazy, arrogant, or incompetent to go by the rules and ends up putting the company at risk by doing things that are stupid and illegal.

The situation described in number 3 is certainly not unheard of. In fact, that happens way more often than you probably think. However, I settled on number 2 as the most likely explanation.

Thus settled, I immediately sent an email to the managing editor and informed her of the situation, letting her know that I was not angry but she needs to know she’s using copyrighted material without permission. And by the way, permission for such an image used in this context is astoundingly cheap.

The managing editor emailed me back within a couple of hours to apologize, and to inform me that the image has been removed from the web site. She told me that 80% of the photos they use are taken by their own photographers, and the other 20% are used with permission. She doesn’t know how this one got into their database, but she would look into it. (Judging by some file data I extracted, it looks like they’ve been using the image for at least seven months; it was put in the database on my birthday last June.)

I replied by thanking her for addressing the situation, and I reassured her again that I wasn’t angry. I told her that the price for usage rights was in the range of “lunch money.”

She emailed me back later to apologize again, and to reiterate that they take these issues seriously. She also informed me that she has escalated the issue to the head office in Toronto to ensure that everyone is aware of the rules and to make sure it doesn’t happen again. She never brought up the possibility of paying. (But why would she when she has a ready store of free images? Although it should be said that the image they replaced it with is dead boring.)

The reason why I’m telling you this is not because I want to slag CTVmontreal.ca. (In fact, I commend them for their quick and decisive reply.) Rather, I want to make the point that in this hot-tempered atmosphere of copyright sensitivity, at a time when the world is neatly cleaved into the old-school copyright defenders and the new-school “free sharing” enthusiasts, each side should relax a bit and not get all Balkanized. Each school of thought has merit and there is room for both.

Specifically:

  • Copyright defenders should not get all paranoid that every bit of file sharing and “creative commons” material represents some crazy communist plot to rip the very cash from their pockets.
  • Free sharing enthusiasts should recognize that not all creative effort is a gift to the world and that some people need to make a living this way.

And that, dear readers, is my oversimplified view.

It’s just a starting point really. In my various travels around the web I am constantly shaking my head at the paranoid, silly, reactionary, and just plain stupid thinking of people on both sides of the fence. Yes, the world is changing! Adapt!

We need to find a way to keep both approaches in play and in balance. By not overreacting (as a few people who I told this story to on the day it occurred did), by understanding that (a) in this context the image doesn’t have much monetary value, so I’m not really out anything, (b) the “perpetrator” is a big corporation that probably has very strict rules that were broken by one rogue, (c) there’s no point in getting all hot blooded over it, and (d) by telling this story here, I am doing my little bit to calm these choppy waters and to find my place in a world where most creative work is cheap, but that cheapness opens up other possibilities.

On Fuzzy Photographs

Despite raving about Chistroprudov Dimitri’s very clear and beautiful nightime cityscapes a few days ago, I remain an unrepentant fan of fuzzy photographs. I don’t like fuzzy for the sake of fuzzy, but sometimes fuzzy adds to the narrative of a photograph. Other times it’s purely a matter of aesthetics (which is, arguably, part of the narrative).

There are many reasons why I like fuzzy photographs, and at the core of it all is my high tolerance for ambiguity. I don’t need for things to always be explained clearly, or for strictly Cartesian rules to be used when judging “quality” or effectiveness. I could write a whole book about that, but why bother, it’s been done many times.

Here’s an example: below is a fuzzy photograph I took of The Mini one day when I was trying out my (then) new and (since) woefully underused Holga. The Holga, as you may know, is a cheap plastic camera made in China and introduced in the early 1980s. It’s so bad it’s good, and it piggybacks on the cult following of the even cheaper Hong-Kong made Diana camera from the 1960s. The photo makes no sense at all from a technical perspective, but I really like it anyway:

There are a couple of reasons why I’m telling you about this. First, my From the Hip — Montreal photo blog got props today in the cultural newsweekly Hour. Yay me. Yay appreciation for street photography that doesn’t make any sense in the traditional way. Yay for appreciating photographs that are tilted at odd angles and in many cases quite fuzzy. The fuzziest in the photo blog (so far) is this long-time favorite of mine:

…which you really need to see bigger to appreciate.

The ultimate victory for my fuzzy photographs has nothing to do with the From the Hip — Montreal photo blog. An extremely fuzzy photograph of mine was chosen to be used as the cover illustration for a book published by Les Presses de l’Université Laval. The book, Les Politiques Publiques au Canada: Pouvoir, conflits et idéologies (Public policy in Canada: Power, Conflicts, and Ideologies) edited by Dimitrios Karmis and Linda Cardinal, is a survey of exactly those things expressed in the title. The editors (disclosure: Dimitri and Martine are friends) wanted an image that was very “Canadian” but not iconic in a self-serving way. I think they were looking for something that reflected ideologies and conflicts, as discussed in the book, and perhaps was a bit ironic.

Dimitri found my image “Saturday Night in Canada” on my Monday Morning Photo Blog. He liked it and asked if he could use it, to which I agreed, for a reasonable fee (as usual).

I was very pleased with his choice, because I really like the image. However, when I first posted it on the Monday Morning Photo Blog back in 2006, I fully expected it to be the least viewed image there. It simply looks like a mistake; an error, the kind of photo you delete before it even leaves the camera.

But look at the narrative. What do you think of when you think “Saturday Night in Canada?” Specifically, I’m thinking “small town Canada.” If you’ve lived as many small town Canadian Saturday nights as I have, you’ll realize that gas stations, Tim Horton’s, and being a bit drunk and fuzzy-minded is exactly what comes to mind.

It certainly is an unusual choice for a book cover, but I applaud the editors for not letting convention get in the way of their choice.

Stay tuned for more! With these affirmations I’m beginning to think I’m not insane after all, that not everyone is a pixel-peeping literalist. From the Hip — Montreal will continue to feature fuzzy and tilted views of my world, and the Monday Morning Photo Blog — which is a mixed bag that has no particular theme or direction — will occasionally feature fuzziness when the images speak that way.

(What, you want another fuzzy one? Arite arite…)

I love the Web, I hate the Web

One of the things I love about the Web is that it brings so much good stuff to so many people. Blah blah blah, you all know the drill. Today I’m all agape over some photographs by Russian photographer Chistroprudov Dimitri, who apparently specializes in night-time cityscapes of Moscow, taken from various rooftops around the city.

This is no mild amusement on Flickr. Dimitri has a large body of work, and each image takes considerable effort to conceive and execute. And they really work. This is outstanding urban photography, by any measure.

I found them, via a Twitter post from Vanou, on English Russia — a fascinating Web site dedicated to bringing images and stories of contemporary Russia to English speaking readers and viewers. (Warning: if you click that link you’d better have a high-speed connection because the page loads about 80 photographs, all larger than the reduced and compressed versions I’ve included in this post.)

I love cities and I love urban photography, so I’m really glad to have found these photos.

So what do I hate about the Web? I hate the way the Web tends to reduce serious photographic work down to the level of a quick diversion. Go to the English Russia link above (right click and choose “Open link in new tab” and let it load in the background while you finish reading this post). What will you do there? You’ll look at the first few and say “wow.” Look at a few more. More “wows.” Pretty soon you’ll be scrolling through faster and faster, spending on average about 1.5 seconds on each image.

This is largely due to the design of English Russia and its editorial position (putting 80 images on a single page is a “dump” of the images, and clearly not a thoughtfully considered curatorial decision). Regardless, that’s what you generally get on the Web. Even if English Russia put the images into some kind of album that played with a nice soundtrack, 80 images is still too much. So yes, in a way I’m barking up the wrong tree, so to speak.

But even if they culled it down to a more manageable 25 or 30 images, most of us would still just blast through them, nodding, and then forget all about it. At best we’d make a link on Twitter or Facebook, and then move on.

Compare that with the old school approach; print them up and hang them in a room. A gallery (not virtual). What would you do then? If you did visit the gallery, and if you liked the images, you would probably spend a lot more time with them. You’d walk around the room, pausing on the ones you liked best, move along to another. Come back to the ones you liked. Maybe you’d sit down (if benches were provided) and ponder them from a greater distance.

In other words, you’d spend more time with the images (plus you would get to see them in a larger and more detailed format). So which is better: having a hundred or so people really see your photos, or having thousands scan through them without paying much attention? As a photographer, I think I prefer the former.

You could argue that one does not exclude the possibility of the other; that putting them on the Web could in fact lead to more people showing up at the gallery to see the prints. That sounds good in theory, and for many artists it’s likely true. But for many people (myself included), the Web is the main venue for their work.

So what exactly am I saying? Well, three things, actually:

  • People who put their photographic work up on the Web should make an effort to curate it properly. That means choosing well, presenting nicely, and not overwhelming the viewer with too many images.
  • People who look at photographic work on the Web would be doing the photographers a big favor by slowing down and really looking at some of the images. Not necessarily all, but some. And leave a comment if the site allows it. Nobody wants their photographs to exist in a vacuum.
  • Chistroprudov Dimitri’s photographs of Moscow are really awesome. Go spend some time with them.

(Note: despite the watermark on the photographs, Christoprudov Dimitri does not seem to have a Livejournal page.)