Another 15 Minutes

04Mar10

“In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” may well be the most famous quote of the 20th Century. First uttered by Andy Warhol in 1968, it has taken on various forms. We refer to someone’s “fifteen minutes of fame,” or note that another’s “15 minutes are up.”

But Warhol’s remark proved to be far more prescient than even he imagined. Warhol died in 1987, before the explosion of two phenomena that would prove him right many times over: reality television and the Internet.
K9 Sheriff
COPS” (aka the best show on television) was the original reality TV show in the modern sense of the term, although the type of fame it bestows on its “stars” probably is not the kind that most would choose. Reality shows too numerous to name have followed in its wake.

But more than anything, the Internet and in particular social networking web sites like Facebook, photo sharing sites such as Flickr and other Do-it-Yourself (DIY) media like blogs have provided millions with the ability to realize their 15 minutes of fame.

Writer Clive Thompson calls it “The Age of Microcelebrity.”

If you have a Facebook account, or lots of photos on Flickr, Thompson wrote on Wired.com, “Odds are there are complete strangers who know about you — and maybe even talk about you. Microcelebrity,” Thompson explains, “is the phenomenon of being extremely well known not to millions but to a small group — a thousand people, or maybe only a few dozen. As DIY media reach ever deeper into our lives, it’s happening to more and more of us.”

It has happened to me a few times. Since I started putting my photos on Flickr, a few of my images have gone on to bigger and better things and afforded me a measure of microcelebrity.
McWank's
About a year ago, I got an email from a blogger at the Guardian of London, one of England’s biggest newspapers. The Guardian has a food blog called Word of Mouth, and they wanted to use one of my Flickr photos to illustrate a story. “We’re going to be doing a piece on bad restaurant names and this pic would illustrate it brilliantly,” the email said.

The photo in question was one I had taken while on a 1992 trip through Alaska and the Canadian Northwest. In the Yukon town of Watson Lake, we came upon a fast-food restaurant with a tasteless name “McWanks’s.” I took a photo and 15 years later scanned it and put it on my Flickr page.

A few days after I got the email from London, the blog piece, What’s in a Name? by Graeme Allister, came out on the Guardian food blog, and there, featured prominently at the top of the piece, was the photo of McWank’s that I had taken years earlier, along with my photo credit.

Prior to its appearance on the Guardian blog, this photo had languished on my Flickr page with double digit views. But on the first day it was featured on the Guardian, the photo of the restaurant with the funny name racked up over 1400 views, shooting to the top of my Flickr photos, with more than twice as many views as my second most viewed photo. And that just counts the folks who clicked through to my Flickr page. There is little doubt that thousands more viewers simply enjoyed the full-size photo on the Guardian site, without ever clicking through to my Flicker page.

Just like that, I was a microcelebrity in Britain and around the world.
US Senator Scott Brown
My latest brush with microcelebrity hits the news stands this week. In mid-February, I got an email from someone in the art department of Boston Magazine asking permission to use a photo I took of Scott Brown in their March issue. They had found the photo on my Flickr page. It was a picture I took at an appearance Brown made at the Kowloon in Saugus, Massachusetts shortly after he was elected to the United States Senate. The March issue of Boston Magazine is now out and at the top of page 26 is the photo I took of Scott Brown, illustrating a little blurb in the magazine’s “Forecast” section.

Granted, the photo is small – ok, tiny. But I got a photo credit, and along with it another 15 minutes as a microcelebrity.

I plan to savor every microsecond of it.

[A version of this column appeared in the March 4, 2010 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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One Response to “Another 15 Minutes”

  1. Very interesting blog. The other lesson here: Talent will out.


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