Plenty stained glass in Walsall Council House
There’s nothing better than seeing social media come alive and create something vivid, exciting and worthwhile.
Take good connections between creative people, an open mind and suddenly all sorts of possibility opens up.
Just such a thing took place at our first Walsall Flickr group meet at Walsall Council House.
If you haven’t come across Flickr take a look. It’s a photo hosting website founded in 2004.
You can search and view pictures and look at dedicated groups ranged around the most arcane places or subjects.
The Lake District group has 3,000 members. One dedicated to clouds alone has 8,000 members.
Five years after it was founded Flickr now has more than four billion images.
People often self organise along geographic lines. For example, the excellent Walsall Flickr group has 70 members with a pool of 5,000 images.
These can be everything from corn fields in summertime and famous landmarks to sunrise over the allotment. There’s even one contributor who specialises in shots of old buses taken in Walsall over the past 30 years.
As a council, on Twitter we’d been tweeting links from @walsallcouncil to individual shots in the group’s pool for months. Reaction had been good.
Geographic Flickr groups often stage meets at events or landmarks where members will take pictures.
Frustrated by a national trend for police officers to use counter-terrorism to stop photography in the streets Flickr meets are becoming increasingly important.
At Walsall, we have a beautiful Council House that dates to 1905. Its polished wood and plaques make it the ACME of Georgian civic pride.
There is a carved wooden memorial to the Boer War with 100 names and an alabaster First World War plaque with a carved British Tommy.
There are stern pictures of bewhiskered Mayors gone by hanging from the walls and ornate stone carvings. All things that can make fantastic pictures.
All too often, Council Houses up and down the land can appear remote, closed and intimidating. Let’s not forget they are there to serve and they belong to the people they serve.
The thinking behind the Council House Flickr meet was twofold. First, use social media to connect with people. Second, open up the building to let residents taking pictures of their council and their heritage.
An email, a phonecall and a meeting with organiser and talented amateur photographer and social media enthusiast Lee Jordan showed the group were keen to come to the Council House.
Tentative plans were made for other landmarks. A car park and a Bell Tower – both with panoramic views were singled out as examples.
Permissions for the shoot were sought from the Council hierarchy and a consent form for participants drafted.
Who retained copyright proved one issue. Nerves were calmed when it was discovered we did not want to claim it. Museums with a store of paintings and collections often want to keep this, I understand, and that’s something to work with.
Those who took part had the option of allowing us to use pics for marketing in return for a picture credit.
A slot on a Saturday morning was set and promoted to the Walsall group via their Flickr messageboard.
There was a vibrant thread of 50 messages on the group’s forum and six photographers came along.
We spent around two hours taking shots in the deserted building. War memorials, Mayoral photographs, the board of honour, the cavernous Town Hall where Slade once played were covered.
The sanctum of the Council Chamber itself was also shot by the group.
Was it a success? Absolutely. More than 100 shots were posted to the Flickr group pool building from the event. There was a suprisingly good standard to the quality. They are not happy snappers. They are seriously good amateurs whose work can compete with some of the best professionals.
We are now looking to build a page on the council website where those who took part’s nominated pics can be hosted. Links will be added back to individual’s Flickr pages to showcase their other work. Everyone is a winner.
So, why did it succeed?
1. Like all good social media projects it connected with people.
2. By taking part in social media the council could start a conversation.
3. Residents could photograph part of their heritage.
4. It opened up a civic building giving special access to Flickr group members.
5. Talented individual’s work could be showcased and taken to a wider audience.
6. Shots taken could be tweeted on the council’s Twitter feed.
7. Selected shots – with permission – could be added to the council’s image library.
8. The council could start a dialogue with residents.
HOW COUNCILS CAN USE FLICKR
1. First join Flickr as an individual. Get to know how it works by playing around with it. Same as any social media platform.
2. Join Flickr as an authority. Start posting pics — but check that the copyright holder is fine with that. Even if you have an array of pictures from freelancers he or she will still retain copyright. Always ask first (see copyright and photography link below).
3. Search Flickr groups for one in your area. (eg Black Country or Walsall).
4. Contact the group admin. See what locations you may have the group may want to set-up a meet at.
5. See what you can do with the pictures that have been taken. An exhibition? A spread of pics on your website? Be creative. Be social.
The Walsall Flickr group pool (needs Flickr membership to view)
Pictures from the Walsall Council House Flickr meet (needs Flickr membership to view)