Approaching 10 Years of Photographs on the Brain
What will happen to all the aggregation blogs when Tumblr dies?
I started my Tumblr, Photographs on the Brain on January 24th, 2008 with a photograph of Heath Ledger by Grant Lamos, which means if it survives to January 2018 that’ll be a full decade. Over the last year, my posting has slowed down substantially, and I’ve contemplated stopping completely since Tumblr seems to be on its death spiral.
What’s more ominous is that Mark Peter Drolet’s brilliant blog may have finally perished after receiving another DMCA takedown notice (read this MPD interview with Blake Andrews.) Tumblr nuked it and it doesn’t look like they are going to bring it back, and yet MPD is going to give it another try. Yet, gone are the years of photographs. All that editing and curating, and for what?
The Rise of Tumblr: Reblogging, Aggregation and The Endless Stream of Photographs
It took me awhile to jump on the Tumblr bandwagon, but when I joined I quickly grew fond of it because of the ease of use and the seemingly random content that ended up in my dashboard. Reblogging was a big part of the appeal. With a click of a button you could share content to your Tumblr.
A good number of photographers started using it as their primary blog so it became the best platform to catch up on their projects, assignments and random photos. Several curation blogs and magazines emerged as well. They normally fell into two camps: posting original content much like traditional blogs or reblogging other content from around Tumblr.
When I stopped publishing LPV Magazine, POTB became my primary way of sharing photographs. They put me in the directory early on, so I ended up with a substantial following allow my engagement numbers indicated that most of those followers probably weren’t paying attention.
For several years, I was an aggregation curation reblogging machine. I started to view it as it’s own type of project, almost bordering on a personal appropriation project. What to make of this archive? I would get comments from people telling me they’ve gotten lost in the archives. You can keep clicking and it never seems to end.
For me, this type of hyper aggregation signaled something new. It was a stream of seemingly endless photographs, day after day. Sure, context is important, but there’s also something pleasurable in browsing through a high volume of photographs quickly. I know photographers cringe when they hear that because everyone wants to believe their photographs require quiet contemplation but that’s simply not how photographs are consumed all the time, especially on the internet.
Now that Instagram has captured most photographers attention, it’s the default place to share daily photographs. I know there are editors and curators using Instagram to share work they find interesting but I just haven’t been able to do it.
What Happens to Our Digital Archives is Still a Mystery; Maybe an AI Will Be Responsible for Maintaining Them
I’ve contemplated turning POTB into a book, but the process of securing rights and putting it together is daunting right now, so for the time being it’s going to be a digital archive. I have no idea how long Tumblr will be around or what will happen if an account is abandoned. We’re all going to die eventually and leave behind these digital archives. What eventually happens to them is a mystery. I have to renew the Photographsonthebrain.com domain every few years, eventually I’m sure I’ll stop and then all that will be left will be photographsonthebrain.tumblr.com
It’s possible that eventually an AI will tend to all these digital archives and back them up in a cloud in some other galaxy for all of eternity and potentially into the next version of the universe. All ten years of that work could be stored in a single particle and duplicated billions of times and stored all across the universe.
If if that becomes a reality, I still wonder if those 10 years of reblogging were worth it. Perhaps, scrolling through Tumblr and reblogging was just like taking a walking and making photographs. It was something intellectually stimulating to do in the moment, and through technology I was able to preserve that small moment of perception. I find that valuable on a personal spiritual level.
I like looking at photographs and I like having them lodged into my brain. It makes life a little more tolerable.