Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Flickr becomes channel for community protest

By Marjorie Delwarde | 31 Oct 2006

A community group is using photo sharing website, Flickr, to protest against the Bury council’s decision to auction a LS Lowry painting to balance its budget deficit.

Set up only a few days ago, the Bury Lowry group has 93 members, attracting the interest of not only the locals but also people from the US, Australia, Austria, Brazil and Denmark. To date, 52 people have signed its petition.

John Wilson, an administrator of the Bury Lowry group, told Ping Wales: “This painting reflects the industrial England and its working class. Lowry is one of the best known British painters. The controversy surrounding the sale of this painting is about the identity of this area.”

Although Flickr primarily allows the management and sharing of photos, one of its main appeals is its social networking aspect.

Wilson explains: “Flickr members can comment on each others’ photos. I posted an image of Lowry’s painting, and this acted as a catalyst for the formation of the online campaign. Several people commented on the image and that’s how it all started.”

Broadband advocate, curator and artist, Wilson views this use of Flickr as a testimony that the internet is no longer just about entertainment and consumers downloading files or software, but is a place where serious conversations can also take place.

Frank Foran, former Bury resident and founder of the Bury Lowry group, adds: “[John] and I thought the global imaging community was the ideal place to showcase an endangered image, A Riverbank by LS Lowry, due to be sold at Christies on 17 November, and focus more attention on the issue.”

“Flickr is a social networking facility where strong feelings on an issue can be expressed and form the basis of useful discussion. I hope that the Bury Lowry site will be an influential forum in the ongoing debate.”

The group hopes to widen the debate and generate further awareness and as a result put further pressure on the council to reconsider its decision.

According to Foran, the council is no stranger to online protest campaigns. When the council tried to close down two large secondary schools, it was forced to change its mind after a massive and sustained campaign largely run [using tools from] Google, he says.

Commenting on the council’s response to group’s protest letter, Foran says: “We have yet to receive a reply to the letter published, though the hard copy can only just have reached the council. We sincerely hope that the council will respond to our criticism.”

A spokesman for the council told Ping Wales: “We are aware of the group however the sale is going ahead as it is a council decision. So far, we have had seven contacts regarding the Lowry sale, three of which have been in favour.”

The 1947 oil painting will be auctioned at Christie's in London on 17 November. The Bury Times reports that the council hopes it will raise £500,000 to balance the budget, and a further £421,000 to meet the overspend on the new Ramsbottom Library.

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