Sarah Boxer Writes About The 7/7 Community On Flickr in The New York Times
There was a very odd article published by the New York Times in the Arts section over the weekend, where Sarah Boxer reviewed the London Bomb Blasts Flickr group - On the Web, Photos Strain to Connect 7/7 and 9/11*. It was bought to my attention as it name-checked my Flickr-self as one of the top posters. Her argument is that the group have collectively tried to put something together to echo the iconic images of New York on September 11th 2001, but have failed.
Flickr, a popular photo-sharing Web site that posts pictures from anyone and everyone, has a special folder for images of the bomb blasts that stunned London on Thursday. The folder, labeled [sic] "7/7 Community," is remarkable for two things: its cool look not at the event itself but at the news media coverage of the event, and an effort to pictorially link 7/7 and 9/11.
Although the 700-odd posted pictures are the work of many photographers, most of them have a very particular feel. And that feel is remote and secondhand.
The Web is supposed to be a great place for people to get their information firsthand, before it is processed. But that is not really what has happened with Flickr's collection of the London bomb blasts. Almost every one of these pictures is of the processing.
By and large, though, the Flickr site is not about the tragedy itself but about how news is passed. You see pictures of people talking on their cellphones, photographs of signs announcing changes in service on the Underground. You see Underground maps with the affected stations circled. There are even a few shots of Underground tickets dated July 7, ordinary objects transformed into collectors' items. The photographs are cool and collected.
Consider the pictures taken by the top posters, those who sent the most to Flickr. The top poster, who goes by the name fgt, filed 42 pictures. Of those, 40 are of a television screen as the news of the day evolves. All 37 of the pictures posted by Bigdaddymerk are of television screens. All 10 posted by the poster currybet were screen shots of the BBC News's Web site [sic].
I think she makes some fair points about the lack of actual pictures of the incidents, but then with three of the explosions taking place underground even the 'real press' are only just beginning to get some photos of the actual incidents. I have still only seen images of the 30 bus and one of the trains that suffered in a blast.
The plethora of TV screenshots and web screengrabs irritated some of the people within the group - J. James Bono left a (now deleted) comment on one of my series of images of the BBC homepage - "What a waste of the last 13 mouse clicks", and in one of the discussion threads jrg and ReallyStrangeGirl respectively commented
Whilst some of the pictures are good, I wish others weren't feeling the need to add umpteen TV screen captures, website screen grabs, or pictures not taken themselves.
I also wish people wouldn't post so many screen shots and TV grabs... we can see that on our television sets folks! People come to Flickr for something unique that can't be found anywhere else.
Where I can't follow Sarah Boxer's argument is that the group was 'an effort to pictorially link 7/7 and 9/11'
The pictures of flower bouquets laid out in front of the Charing Cross station call to mind the bouquets near ground zero. If you look at the picture of a man wrapped in a Union Jack and replace that flag with an American one, you have an icon of 9/11. A photograph by Will Wade of people walking across the Waterloo Bridge echoes those of New Yorkers crossing the Brooklyn Bridge with the World Trade Center burning behind them.
Will Wade himself points out in a thread about it on Flickr that "Just for the record: Its a picture nothing else". It makes me want to point out that London had bridges across the River Thames a long time before September 2001. Or argue that the bouquets at Ground Zero were a deliberate echo of the floral tributes left outside Kensington Palace in 1997 when Diana Spencer died.
Without a doubt the magnitude of the fatalities on September 11th make it a natural focus for comparison, but I get quite disturbed by the kind of re-versioned history that places the attacks on New York as the origins of Western urban terrorism. Not only does that ignore the opening skirmishes in the 'War On Terror' like the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings, or the attack on the USS Cole, but by striving to compare the attacks last week with September 11th 2001 we neglect London's own very rich tapestry of terrorism. Should the perpetrators of last weeks attacks turn out, as the majority of commentators currently suspect, to be Islamic terrorists, they will be the fourth distinct group of people to try and blow me up in my hometown in the last thirty-odd years, behind the IRA, the Continuity/Real/Dissident IRA, and that bloke who once nearly got me with a nail bomb in Soho.
Hilary (curioush) on Flickr said it more eloquently (but probably more forcefully) than I would about the New York Times article:
...what was the point of the article? Will Wade's photos, for example, were not claiming any kind of new ownership of tragedy the likes of which the world has never seen. I haven't seen that anywhere on Flickr or elsewhere (maybe I'm looking in the wrong places....)
If I received an article like that for publication, I'd reject on the grounds that:
1) it's very poorly timed. There is still quite a bit of pain attached to this event -- as there always will be -- why engage in, or create, a pissing contest about whose tragedy is worse? Let people grieve in the way that they need to.
2) Of course the numbers attached to 9/11 are greater. That's not in dispute. But there are parallels and people will make that leap. If it's done obnoxiously, again, stating that someone else has the corner on tragedy, feel free to call it out. But the article seems to be creating an us-vs.-them/competitive mentality where there is none and shouldn't be one.
Sarah Boxer finishes her article:
Why the stretch to connect the images of 7/7 and 9/11? Maybe it's because the two events are indeed linked in history and thus, people figure, they should be linked in photography. Or maybe it's because people find something oddly comforting in images of human suffering that call to mind other images of human suffering. But the linkage just isn't there. The thought that comes to mind when you see a picture of people crossing the Waterloo Bridge is not that this is New York 2001 all over again, but that someone is trying to squeeze something out of this event that just isn't there.
I'm fairly certain that it is Sarah Boxer who is the only one trying to squeeze something out of this Flickr group that doesn't exist.
* Free registration necessary for The New York Times