Talking pictures: Chris O’Sullivan in conversation with Blipfoto founder Joe Tree
22nd August 2012
Blipfoto is the online community where people take and upload one photograph per day.
CO’S: Sum up Blipfoto for me in one sentence … what makes it different to other things out there?
JT: Blipfoto is a global community of ordinary people who take and share just one photo a day. It’s different because it forces you to think about what you’re sharing. And, unlike other social media tools that tend to connect you with people you already know, Blipfoto connects you with thousands of new people and real new relationships are formed every day.
What gave you the idea to start posting a picture a day?
I’ve been involved professionally in design and photography for many years, and always dabbled with projects that took me away from the constraints of commercial work. Blip began as precisely one of those projects, but when I got utterly hooked, quickly developed into something else. The idea of taking a photograph every day isn’t new – we recently discovered someone who did it on Polaroid through the late seventies and early eighties – but Blipfoto was the first to make it social.
Over the years, how do you think your own journal has contributed to your wellbeing?
I think for most people – myself included – blipping is a contemplative, reflective activity. When the dishes have been done and the kids have gone to bed, you take 30 minutes for yourself, digest the events of your day and record some aspect of it. The daily discipline helps give life a healthy rhythm and the personal archive you build up gives an amazing perspective on life. Occasionally I’ll share a problem or concern and I’m reminded of the strength and support of the community on Blip. It can be incredibly uplifting.
For me the combination of words and pictures, and the one image per day is the unique aspect of Blip for me. Why do you think the word/image combination creates such a powerful record?
Many Blipfoto journals form such a powerful record simply because they’re telling the story of someone’s life, as it happens. The combination of photograph and words is something that lends itself very well to that, but still leaves plenty of room for an individual approach. For some the photo is just a cue to a lengthy piece of writing, for others the photo tells most of the story.I think this flexibility is why a lot of people stick with Blip in a way they may not have with traditional text-only blog. If you don’t want to write much on a certain day, you can still record something personally significant through a photo. The important thing is marking each day and giving yourself something to refer back to later.
Blip members often write passionately about what journaling has given them. What are the top things that people tend to say about what it means to them?
Making new friends and benefiting from the support of the community are firmly at the top of that list, with more practical things like improving their photography or sharing daily life with distant friends coming a close second.
There seems to be a lot of very personal stories told on Blip, including those about mental health. Does it surprise you that people share so much and receive such support?
In building the Blipfoto community, we’ve worked really hard to create a safe environment where people feel comfortable sharing some of the more intimate aspects of their life. Really that comes down to the reaction they get from other people in the community, which is overwhelmingly genuine and positive. So no, it doesn’t surprise me because it’s exactly what we aimed for!
Do you ever have concerns that people share too much?
Some people keep their real identity completely private and share incredibly intimate things, whilst others are quite open about their identity but are more careful about the detail they share. Most people are responsible and savvy enough to find a balance between those two extremes, but if we ever feel someone is naively doing something they might regret later, we’ll probably offer some private advice. That’s all part of managing our community in a responsible way.
The ‘be excellent to each other’ rule seems to me to underpin the way the community ethos of Blip…is it a challenge to keep everyone in line?
In the early days, it was a challenge – tough decisions had to be made and boundaries had to be found. But because of that early work, we’re now home to a community with a set of strong and clear values, which to a great extent looks after itself. Problems are thankfully few and far between.
What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about photo-journaling?
First and foremost, join Blipfoto! It’s the best place in the world to share your life in photos. Secondly, don’t pressure yourself to take a great picture every day – nobody manages to do that. Get comfortable instead with sharing what you have. In six months time you won’t remember what you thought was good or bad, but you will have an incredible record of your life that you couldn’t have achieved in any other way.