One Year Later...

Hello blog folks, it's been a while. One year to be exact... one long crazy year. This time last year, I announced my project called The Big Picture, hoping, of course, that it would do well. It has really blown me away how well it has done. I will happily take some of the credit, but much of the success belongs to the photographers who consistently deliver amazing imagery that makes choosing and editing both a pleasure and a difficult task.

Now, it's been a year, so I'll take some time to look at the good and the bad. (Warning, this is a bit long). I'll start out with some of the bad, just to get it out of the way.

It's a cliche, but be careful what you wish for. If The Big Picture had flopped as a blog, it would have been much easier to walk away from or take a lax attitude towards things. The more popular it got and more it was praised, I felt that much more need to keep it as good and consistent as I could... That's stressful (first world problems, I know). Add to the mix another fulltime job (my web developer position with the Boston Globe, which is still my primary job), some deadline-driven projects, exponential growth in comment moderation (I approve all the blog comments myself, 91,000 in all so far), a full email inbox, and the constant need to be thinking ahead two or three entries, plus the whole "NY Times threatens to close down the Globe" storyline, and, well, I had a bit of a stress freakout a few weeks ago.

I took some steps to fix certain aspects, let go of some unnecessary baggage, and have been getting a lot of help and support, and things feel a whole lot more manageable now. I especially needed to step back and get my life back into balance (I swung way too far in one direction). I don't spend every night combing through wire photos now, and don't obsessively check comments, and don't stress if I can't answer an email immediately. All in all, I feel much better now than I did a month or two ago. It's got to be this way if I plan to continue long-term with the blog, which I do.

Now, for some of the good. This project has been the most fulfilling and rewarding thing I've ever done professionally. When I'm compiling an entry, gathering the photographs, trying to fit them into a cohesive story, it can often be a very emotional experience. More than once, I've found myself in tears when looking at rough layout of an entry for the first time (that's always a good sign that the entry will be powerful). I really feel like I've tried to take the best advantage I can of this platform I find myself on: 165,000 Google Reader RSS subscriptions, tens of thousands of daily bookmark visitors, Twitter-powered ripple effects, frequent top spots on Digg and Reddit.

I know that it's not me, Alan Taylor they are all interested in - it's the story, the photographs, the "what will it be this time?", the virtual travelogue, the amazing, the sad - the world, wrapped into one story - 30 or 40 photographs to linger on, react to, wonder about. I take that pretty seriously, and try to handle it with care. I hate being manipulated, and try not to run news photo stories from a single source (especially government sources). I also try not to cover the most obvious stories (except when I do cover them). When I run entries on areas of serious conflict, I try to make it as balanced as is possible, sometimes, it's nearly impossible (notice I've not yet done a comparative Israel/Palestine entry).

160 entries later, I think the blog is its own best testament to the level of fairness and diversity in subject matter I've tried to maintain, and I'm proud of that. The success and visibility of the blog has brought a great number of people into my life I would never have known: cancer survivors and the families of those who have lost their battles with cancer, some amazing, generous photographers, both professional and amateur, some great people at NASA, many wonderful everyday people from many corners of the world and believers of many faiths (and non-believers). I am thankful to (almost) every one of them. There are of course, the spoilsports, the trolls of every flavor, and, the blog comment spammers (who deserve a special circle in Hell), but they really are few, and don't spoil too much.

When I say the work is fulfilling, it's not just because it makes me feel good when I hit "publish", it's because of the tremendous and powerful feedback I get in email and comments - words that make me realize the impact the blog can have. For instance, when I ran an entry about Ramadan, I got many heartfelt emails from Muslims living abroad that felt cut off from home and the traditions they grew up with - who found such solace and happiness in the entry, and expressed surprise that such a positive photo story would run in a Western publication. When I feel like I can do some good, to be helpful, that's the most worthwhile. If, by showing photographs, I can help someone like James Nachtwey spread awareness of XDR-TB, drug resistant tuberculosis, and the Hell it's causing amongst HIV-positive patients in poorer nations - or can help humanize some banal news headline like "refugees in the Congo", or bring to the forefront dazzling images from some of our best scientists -- those are the best times.

Aside from the stress of the labor itself and everything else I complained about above, there's one other stress that's harder to quantify - emotional. I've never been on such a constant emotional rollercoaster, storylines like goofballs chasing a roll of cheese down a hill one day followed up by teenagers with assault rifles killing each other the next day. I've had to step out of my comfort zone many times to contact others and ask permission to run their (sometimes very personal) photos, or to take efforts to promote myself, which never comes easy. Also, my access to the raw wire photos has altered my point of view about human nature itself a bit, in a negative way. Daily exposure to thousands of uncensored journalistic photographs has exposed me to levels of brutality that I wasn't fully prepared for, and still have trouble processing sometimes. Civilian population centers that are also war zones make for really disturbing - if moving - photographs. I think you know what I mean. I choose to show a handful of these photos when I think it makes a point without being gratuitous, but that's always hard call.

However, I'm still amazed by the overall situation I find myself in - and am thankful to my lovely wife and kids who keep me sane and grounded. When I recently showed off a photo of me in the latest issue of PDN magazine, my daughter ran around the house yelling "Papa's famous!". Realizing how that might resound badly around the schoolyard, I told her that I was by no means famous, but might be "Internet Famous", and explained the difference, which she readily accepted.

Where will things be in another year? Who knows - it's a volatile world out there, especially for newspapers. I will do my best to keep going, mostly because, at the heart of it all, I really, truly enjoy finding, compiling and sharing these photo stories. I have plans, some small, some larger, which may see the light of day soon, or not - I'm still remembering to take things a little easier, enjoy balance, and not sweat the small stuff.

Thanks everyone for your support - you know who you are.

5.31.2009 @ 10:28 PM
View blog reactions


Keep up the great work, Alan. Thanks for sharing these personal insights.
by Blogger Adrian Holovaty at 11:25 AM 
No Alan, thank YOU.
by Blogger Tim at 12:01 PM 
Yeah, keep up the great work Alan. I can identify with a lot of the feelings you express here, the push-pull of insane work life vs. home life, the combination feeling of accomplishment and exhaustion when you've put the finishing touches on something and just pushed "publish" (which starts a whole wave of reactions around the web for the next 48 hours and continues the rush).

The Big Picture is easily my favorite blog and I look forward to viewing the entries whenever I see the new photo teaser show up in Google Reader.
by Blogger mathowie at 12:01 PM 
Alan I love The Big Picture and I really enjoyed reading here about what a journey the past year has been for you. I find the photos you gather to be thought provoking and interesting. My photographer side is often inspired. Thank you for taking the time to compile them to tell the stories. I rarely comment but I always appreciate your work.
by Blogger Melinda at 1:56 PM 
Hey Alan,

Big Picture is in prime pace in my RSS-reader, amazing images, recommended for many friends (today also).

My preference: If you have a gauge between sad/agression/gruseome and aesthetics/beauty/stunning photos, please adjust it to the latter one a bit.

Keep up the great work, I really appreciate it. Big thanks!


by Blogger P at 1:59 PM 
Simple words can't express how thankful I am for this project of yours. It's my window to those corners of the world (literally and figuratively) that I will never be able to reach.

Still, let me say it: Thank you :-)
by Blogger cheeky.cicak at 2:27 PM 
My favorite pictures are the great landscapes - see if you can get more artistic photos to balance the portraits and action sequences.
by Blogger Ian at 2:34 PM 

Love your work. We all shed a tear from time-to-time seeing the beauty and the beast of the world. I personally believe we need to see both.

Looking forward to another great year.

by Blogger GQCOP at 2:40 PM 
Really enjoy the blog, I've passed it on to many friends.

I appreciate the concessions you've made for this project. I do hope you can continue to do it while staying sane.

by Anonymous Matt at 2:46 PM 
I appreciate the general lack of celebs and kittens both. Thank you for providing something worth looking at. I would like you to change nothing.
by Blogger Owen at 4:34 PM 
Its nice to hear the voice behind the work! I really appreciate your blog, I hope your family read these comments and realise how powerful what you do every day is for the hundreds of thousands who read the blog and laugh or cry with the pictures.
by Blogger Adam at 10:50 PM 
Thank you - from one of the 165,000.
Melbourne, Australia
by Anonymous Anonymous at 8:17 AM 
I loved reading about your experience creating The Big Picture. Thank you for sharing that. And keep on keeping on -- although this may sound corny -- your blog makes events, places, wars, and lifestyles a world away seem more real and human.
by Blogger emdot at 5:13 PM 
I have truly enjoyed the Big Picture and Big Picture Notes blogs. I can appreciate the work you have put in and the skill you have in putting together these stories.

Keep on keepin' on.
by Blogger the Doug at 10:18 PM 
Alan, just wanted to express my gratitude for your amazing work! I hope you keep providing us with fascinating new worlds.
by Anonymous Anonymous at 12:03 PM 
You have too many photos of celebrity kittens. Other than that, the site is one I can't help but visit three times a week. Keep up the great work.
by Blogger Andy Airriess at 12:36 PM 
Alan, thanks so much for your story. I used to run a popular BBS in Perth, Western Australia - I have some idea of the mixture of pleasure and pain that you're going through. That said, I know the good will outweigh the bad, keep up the good work!
by Blogger simonbl at 9:37 PM 
I've never commented on The Big Picture itself (I'd rather stay out of the fray), but I wanted to say thank you for all of your hard work. It's my favorite website, and I frequently pass the link on to others. You do a fantastic job!
by Blogger Aquata at 5:12 PM 

I really like Bigpicture - it's one of my 3 every-day-visit Pages. What I like about it is the fact, that I can see more or different things than in TV or News. TV or News from Magazines tend to be single-edge and I like to see both sides. Please continue the good work and please show me more oppositional pictures if possible. Most of the time there is more than one reason.
I don't like pictures which just try to evote emotion - but most of the pictures you post have a background.
How about a Bigpicture news about the Photographers?
by Blogger Alexander at 2:42 AM 
The Big Picture is one of the better initiatives that has befallen mankind in a while. Don't give hope for humanity quite yet Alan. And foremost: stay frosty my friend, stay frosty.
by Blogger Mosez at 10:52 PM 
The BP always takes me someplace, whether it be happy, reflective, sad, etc.

Thanks for your hard work!
by OpenID jenniebeephotography at 2:19 AM 
continue mec, continue, on apprécie
by Anonymous AlizĂ© at 1:03 AM 
My Dear Alan.
On June 22nd 09, I heard the News on Channel 11 mention Tweeter. I went to my computer and pulled up this site. I looked ad the pictures of what is happening over in Iran. Never before have I seen such pictures that showed true expression as I witnessed. It felt as if I was right there in Iran. I was a little scared I must admit. One picture after another I pulled up. I thanked the Lord I was not there while looking at them. This is my second day now looking at the Boston News and looking at New Pictures. You have brought something to people around the world to view. Please continue doing what you are doing. Its wonderful. Thank You
by Anonymous Violet at 9:41 PM 
Wonderful site! Thank you so much for making the sacrifices to make this available to everyone. It's a joy to read it every time you post something new. Thank you!
by Blogger John at 2:11 PM 
First, thank you for a wonderful year.
Second, don't make yourself nuts trying to "top" yourself.
You can't be sure what will click with people, but speaking for myself, I'm always receptive to any pictures of things I can't see in person. I'm gratefull for anything you can show us.
by Blogger xoxoxoBruce at 5:09 PM 
Dear Alan, I find amazing your criteria to select pictures and I share it regularly with my friends, you are gifted. Your hard work helps us not just to learn but to empathize with the injustices in the world.

Thank you.

Gabi, Spain.
by Blogger gabirulo at 6:45 AM 
and THANKS for sharing such photos with all of us !
keep up the good work !

by Blogger Anthony le Bourlier at 7:02 AM 
Not much to add here except thanks for the hard work on this site Alan. Great photos, independent minded, good stories.

by Blogger Sonny Amou at 10:44 AM 

Love and appreciate the work that goes into The Big Picture.

I enjoy the majority of the entries, and realize the importance of world events (such as the recent ones in the middle east), but I also think there should be a bit more variety from week to week. Last few weeks have been mostly violence in middle east, riots somewhere else, coups in Honduras...would be nice to see some less political stuff from week to week (Like I definitely enjoyed the Apollo 11, Tour de France, the Mud and the eclipse entries).

Again, thanks, and no matter what the content, keep it up because I will enjoy it no matter what.
by Anonymous Luke at 3:07 PM 
Thanks for your great work. The Big Picture is one of those nuggets I always enjoy seeing in my RSS reader. Updates are just frequent enough to keep me interested, but not so frequent that I feel I'm falling behind if I don't check my feeds for a bit. It's just brilliant.
by Anonymous Mike at 8:00 PM 
The Big Picture is my home page. I want the first thing I see every day to be visual and powerful. The images rekindle my sense of wonder. No matter if the subject is, breathtakingly beautiful, playful, or brutal, I feel challenged to "see" more. And then I think, "How does it work that women and men can present us with images that are so powerful that they evoke the range of human emotion and encourage us to think more deeply, or fully?" This site is a gift to all of us.
by Anonymous Antonia at 10:54 AM 
Alan, you did a great job. I enjoyed a lot during the past year. There happened a lot of time that i was just sitting in front of my laptop, staring and pondering over these shots...

Thanks for sharing all the beauty all the joy and the sorrow in your camera with us. Thanks for being there and making my life!

by Blogger Amin Torabi at 3:30 PM 
Alan, BigPicture is the reason I first discovered RSS feeds! The insight that you have for an interesting story combined with your eye for a good picture has allowed me to see so many beautiful images by photographers from all around the world. Cheers, bud!
by Blogger Leon Neal at 10:14 AM 
Alan -- I just "discovered" the Big Picture recently. I just want to add to the chorus of "thank you's". The site inspires my photography and also opens my eyes to the world around us. Photojournalism is here to stay, no matter what anyone says!
by Anonymous Anonymous at 9:00 PM 
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