When is a Photo Not a Photo?

This “what is a photo” discussion on Flickr is fascinating. It was driven by some people feeling blind-sided by the popular Yahoo site’s policies with respect to allowing people to upload drawings, screenshots, and the like, as opposed to photos.

In essence, Flickr’s policy currently seems to be that all things non-photo can be uploaded, but if you do much of it your account’s contents will no longer be public (NIPSA — Not in Public Site Areas — to use Flickr parlance). In other words, you’ll be invisible to most users.

Why do that? Because Flickr management (Yo, Stewart!) views Flickr as a photo-sharing site, and drawings and sketches and screenshots aren’t photos, so out they go.

I accept that Flickr folks want to make this distinction, and it’s their site so they can define acceptable as Only Mostly Blue Photos, if they want to, but it is an entertainingly nonsensical argument in the world of digital imagery that Flickr has helped create.

After all, would a photo of a screenshot be allowed? How about a photo of a sketch? I’m assuming yes. What, then, is the difference between  capturing a set of pixels on a computer (i.e., a screenshot), and capturing a set of pixels on a computer using a set of pixels on a camera (i.e., a photo)? I’m afraid the distinction, while no doubt worthy of a Ph.D. philosophy thesis (or three), escapes me.


  1. Good question!
    Of course, this line of thought leads to the second question; “When is data not data”.