Barry Bonds & The Flickr Effect – The End Of Iconography

As I was reading the coverage of surpassing as ‘s Home Run King, it became to me that there was not one single defining photograph of him that captured his historic achievement. From our two local papers here in the Twin Cities, the and the , to , , , , and , they all used a variety of photos of Bonds to illustrate the story. Check out the and you’ll find the same.

When I think of Hank Aaron surpassing as the career home runs leader with his 715th bomb, I think of one image and one image only:

Since the invention of photography, every era in our history has had certain iconic images associated with it that helped define, in a glance, that era. The same holds true for many of our most significant historic events or moments.

The slide show below features iconic photographs from our nation’s history

Flickr Slide Show Of Iconic Photography


(See below for links to full-sized photos)

As I was scrolling through today, it occurred to me that Flickr has pounded the last nail in iconography’s coffin. The Flickr Effect obliterates mass appeal through the volume and the dissolution of attention its RSS distribution system enables.

From here on out, I think it will be rare that a single image will become iconic by defining an event or era.

The environment for icons was much more friendly when we had three television networks, a couple of national newspapers, and a handful of
weekly news magazines.

The death of iconic images has been coming for some time. It started with the expansion of news media outlets by the introduction of cable television and it continued when the avenues through which people consumed news expanded dramatically with the popularity of the Web. But it exploded with the rise of blogs, low cost digital cameras, , and the distribution platforms of Flickr and other photo sharing sites.

Mass media is dead. Because we get our news through such a vast array of sources, it is virtually impossible for one news organization to capture a large enough percentage of public for an iconic image to emerge.

It is certainly possible for an image to gain enough popular appeal to become an icon; it’s just not likely.

Take 9/11. Surely the burning of the Twin Towers of the was an iconic image. Everyone can close their eyes and see that image in their mind’s eye. But there is not one single photograph that is the icon. There was so much coverage from so many different sources that the photographic library of the attack was too voluminous, photos of the buildings were taken from so many different angles, that no single image ever had a chance to emerge as an icon.

The death of the icon is due to too much. Too much volume and too many sources.

Links to the Full-Size Photos Featured in the Slide Show:

The first photo is, of course, , the iconic figure of the era. The and other outlaw photographs are emblematic of the post Civil War era. ‘s
represent the 1900s.  The and are captured by the . The
of the 1930s in
all its anguish, desperation, and poverty. The
marked one of the most indelible word wide media events of the modern age. A captures a national
sin. The dramatically illustrates the gangsterism of the
prohibition era. In the 1940s, and and we
, though some were not quite sure.  The 1950s are
captured by in . The turbulence of the sixties included the president, controversy, sorrow, , the , , , and a and
. The marked a turning point in world history. The famine in Sudan was dramatically illustrated by .

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About David Erickson

David Erickson is principal of e-Strategy Media, a digital marketing consultancy based in Minnesota. David has extensive experience in digital marketing and is often used as an expert source by media and asked to speak on the topic before organizations and to sit on panel discussions.

4 Comments

  1. Sam on August 10, 2007 at 1:59 00 am CDT

    I think it’s still possible, ESPECIALLY in sports, where possible photographic access (lens size, presence of a monopod, and location) is restricted to pros (as opposed to, say, photos of the World Trade Center attack).

    For instance, the image of Jason Varitek shoving ARod’s face in with his glove has definitely achieved iconic status, at least in New England (and throughout the amorphous “Red Sox Nation”). I think it’s pretty unlikely that anyone but a pro could have captured that shot, no matter how good their seats were, and so there’s just the one.

    To capture a good home run shot you have to be set back from it a bit, so a fan with a good camera and good seats might be able to get a shot comparable to some of what the AP photogs got.

    The Bonds homerun was also heavily anticipated: everyone knew it was coming, and everyone, therefore, was shooting for it. Of course you’re going to get a ton of photos of the same thing. But there will still be great sports moments that happen “by surprise”, and you’ll probably only get one or two good shots of that showing up… and if the moment is big enough, those shots will become iconic.



  2. Sam on August 9, 2007 at 6:59 09 pm CDT

    I think it’s still possible, ESPECIALLY in sports, where possible photographic access (lens size, presence of a monopod, and location) is restricted to pros (as opposed to, say, photos of the World Trade Center attack).

    For instance, the image of Jason Varitek shoving ARod’s face in with his glove has definitely achieved iconic status, at least in New England (and throughout the amorphous “Red Sox Nation”). I think it’s pretty unlikely that anyone but a pro could have captured that shot, no matter how good their seats were, and so there’s just the one.

    To capture a good home run shot you have to be set back from it a bit, so a fan with a good camera and good seats might be able to get a shot comparable to some of what the AP photogs got.

    The Bonds homerun was also heavily anticipated: everyone knew it was coming, and everyone, therefore, was shooting for it. Of course you’re going to get a ton of photos of the same thing. But there will still be great sports moments that happen “by surprise”, and you’ll probably only get one or two good shots of that showing up… and if the moment is big enough, those shots will become iconic.



  3. Marie Carnes on August 10, 2007 at 8:34 00 am CDT

    Very interesting commentary. Camera technology isn’t really very old in the history of things. Maybe we were always headed this way.

    But, I hope it’s not true.



  4. Marie Carnes on August 10, 2007 at 1:34 02 am CDT

    Very interesting commentary. Camera technology isn’t really very old in the history of things. Maybe we were always headed this way.

    But, I hope it’s not true.