A hunt for illustrations

"love & fear," by David Pham on Flickr

Usually, I use my own photographs as illustrations for posts. Sometimes, I hunt for them on Flickr, which involves the dual challenge of finding images that communicate, although not too tritely, and that are licensed by Creative Commons.

The search for the image does not come before I write the post or even after I’m done. I search sometime in the middle, when I know what the post is about yet I am still developing the idea or story. The right image is not only for the reader’s experience, it’s for my writer’s one. A photograph is inspiration and a kind of information.

Yesterday, I wrote a short piece for A Sweet Life on loving and fearing my doctor. Link. It started out as loving him and hating the visits, but when I searched Flickr for love/hate images, I mostly found pairs of hands with “love” inked on one set of digits and “hate” inked on the other set. Trite. The frustrating search helped me, though, realize that “hate” was too extreme a characterization of what I feel about quarterly visits to my diabetes doc. Fear is a more apt complement to love.

And so I browsed through Flickr images for love twinned with fear, and, in addition to many mentions of 1 John 4:18,  I found the above image by shapeshift (David Pham). Taken in 2005, the photograph is of a mural on the wall of a construction site in the Mission, San Francisco. I like the intimacy of the pair, with the human heart and skull dwarfing them in size. She is showing him something; he looks down at it, literally. They smile, even though the fragility (and glory) of the heart and the unavoidability of death hover over them. These observations and others, whether I dealt with them explicitly or not in “Why I Love and Fear My Doctor,” fed me while finishing the post. The reflection, prompted by the image and my hunt for it, took me to a different ending than the one I had planned.

Of course I hope the illustration does some work for the reader, too.

One thought on “A hunt for illustrations

  1. Human language is so fascinating, no? we are both verbal and visual, often mashing up the two to get across what we are thinking. One of the things I am deeply interested in is how our search engines will (or if they even can) evolve to create true image searches. Currently we lean on metadata and titles to describe images on the web, which in turn makes them discoverable through verbal-based search engines. Wouldn’t it be great if you could plug in the image into a search engine to discover ?

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