Thursday, June 19, 2008

Flickr's finest, Rebekka Guoleifsdóttir

Rebekka Guoleifsdóttir is one, if not the, outstanding photographer on, the photo community website.

The Icelandic photographer, known as _rebekka on the site, is both an example of how the internet can make you famous and how it can bite your bum.

Rebekka's stunning landscapes, with a smattering of sexy and humorous self-portraits, have fuelled a fanatical following for the 29-year-old. She's been featured in news and magazine articles around the world, been commissioned for major advertising campaigns, held exhibitions and does a tidy line in print sales.

And all because of the profile her photographs on flickr gave her. Rebekka's camera skills were honed as she uploaded her pictures to flickr. Her exceptional photography would eventually have reached a wider audience on its own, but there is no doubt her web presence accelerated the process.

Success for her, success for flickr, success for the internet. Jolly good.

Now the bad bit. So desirable are Rebekka's photographs that people want them. And they want to sell them. Without telling Rebekka. A British website which sells photographs printed on canvas were the first to steal her prints from flickr, upscaling the relatively small jpegs before selling them on eBay and through their website (later changing to when their scam was exposed).

It was a sorry tale, not least because of the way flickr (owned by Yahoo) handled the episode after they were inundated with complaints from Rebekka's online fans. Dismissive, unsympathetic and aggressive before someone realised they had a PR disaster on their hands unless they started to practice the feel-good community spirit they preach.

The episode left a sour taste in the mouth of the photographer herself, who told me in an interview for Photography Monthly magazine: "

So you can imagine her horror when in February 2008 she found a contributor to stock photography outfit selling her photographs, again stolen from flickr. Twenty-five of the seller's 31 photographs were Rebekka's.

iStockphoto moved quickly to remedy the problem, but it was still a shocking incident which was reported around the world.

In both instances Rebekka, though obviously peeved, kept her cool. behaving in a considered and impeccable manner. I'd be spitting feathers, demanding action and calling for the return of capital punishment.

While she had been watermarking her images on flickr and reducing the downloadable image size, some of her older images were still rife for stealing. It's almost impossible, time-wise, to re-upload images.

And the moral of the story? Lurking in the shadows, behind the undoubted power of the internet, is the power to steal. Rebekka is a high-profile victim, but I could be a victim too - so could you.

Many of my images on flickr were uploaded before I started embedding my name and copyright notices in them (though these would not deter a thief anyway). The internet is an amazing place, especially for photography.

But just as you would be wary walking down a dark alley with a bag full of expensive camera equipment, don't assume your belongings are safe online. The pixelated jungle is just as unsafe as its urban counterpart.

Rebekka's website:
Rebekka on flickr:

NOTE: I've not asked Rebekka permission to use any of her photo's to illustrate this article, so I haven't used any. Infact, I've not even told her about this article - the flickr community will do that.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kiev conquered

Lunch in Kiev, dinner in Riga, supper in Hemel Hemsptead. If that isn’t a perfect day, then a perfect day doesn’t exist.

Far off the beaten track, it’s one of those destinations few in Britain have been lucky enough to reach. But if you put in the effort, Hemel Hempstead is worth it.

But let’s deal with Kiev. It’s the most difficult city I’ve been to in terms of getting around and communicating. But once you’ve found a map, got your bearings and conquered the metro the fear disappears and the beauty of this place unveils itself.

Kiev has more churches than the Vatican, more street boozing than Manchester on UEFA Cup Final night, more beautiful women than a Paris fashion show.

The churches are part of its Christian history, the boozing on Independence Square at night is what they do and the beautiful girls are just a happy coincidence.

And with no direct flights to Kiev from Britain, you feel like you’re visiting an unspoilt wonderland that the west has been unable to bastardise through stag do’s and budget flights.

It’s like seeing communism firsthand without the communism actually being there any more. Get yourself to Kiev (but don’t tell anybody in case they ruin it).

NOTE: My trip to Kiev was for my book Outsiders. I interviewed and photographed Sean Carr and Mick Lake from the band Death Valley Screamers, two guys from Leeds who now live in Kiev, the city where they relaunched their band with life-changing success.

I flew from Stansted via Riga. I spent two hours in Riga on my way back. The Latvian girls just aren't as pretty.