the online gallery: pinterest

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Somebody, not necessarily you, manages every space you inhabit. My desktop background is a picture of a big techno concert. Before it loads, however, I’m stuck looking at a cartoon fish, courtesy of the Windows 8 design team. I’m increasingly certain that when this team goes on breaks, the designers feast on orange slices, apple juice, and cinnamon grahams.

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I signed up for Pinterest for two excellent reasons: people were talking about it, and signing up was free. As soon as I got my invitation, I began setting up my little homestead, only to discover that I had no idea what I hoped to get out of the site. I put this on Facebook as a status update: hi everyone, any suggestions for how to use Pinterest? No luck. I didn’t want to pin recipes, nor did I want to pin items on my shopping wishlist — I’m not a cooking maven, and I already have a Wishlist at Amazon. (In fact, even if I was a cooking maven, I wouldn’t use Pinterest. I’d use Evernote.)

I tried looking around at what other people had done. It was pretty disheartening. A few cute, visual “memes” were available, and I repinned one or two, despite a terrible feeling of futility. Why pin something that is easily available, doesn’t represent your taste, and probably won’t stay fresh beyond a couple viewings? I saw a cute green dress and pinned that, but immediately felt even more ridiculous. Great: now my Pinterest consisted of generic memes AND a decent dress (6/10) somebody else might purchase and wear. I saw people creating boards showcasing quotes or favorite bands, but I was definitely opposed to doing that myself. I’ve already had to make lists on so many different sites, and the only one that still mattered, on Facebook, turned into a pipeline for spam. As for quotes, while it’s nice to take pictures of real books, I’m now completely used to online text, which is a hundred times easier to post and use.

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Thank God for an actual painter. My friend Talia DiPanfilo, a gifted abstract expressionist, runs excellent pinboards filled with interesting art and sexy fashion. Specifically, she runs one board that’s characteristically brash. Instead of being called “Fashion” or even “Hotness,” it’s called “i wanna be parts of you.” The implication is a little terrifying, but when you read her captions, it’s also very funny. She’s takes a glamour photo of a woman and decides what parts she wants to be, and it can be anything from a tiny part of the outfit to the mood of the picture as a whole.

I tore down what I’d built (the “default set” encouraged by the site), put up new boards with minimalist titles, and went off in search of imagery. Instead of splashing around on Pinterest, I started digging on Tumblr, starting with basically just two feeds (Real Broad and Busby Berkeley Dreams) but then following links from re-blogs, which often stacks 10+ feeds high.

After a while, I figured out what I was looking for — glamour. For me, that’s a mixture of punk, modernism, sex, queer fashion, and high fashion. By pinning instead of re-blogging, I could cherry-pick without heaping up too many reblogs.

Tumblr has bottomless archives done in exactly this style. It’s annoying to work through them, but it’s do-able. I was pinning until dawn. When I finally logged off, I’d begun an online gallery that managed to exist in the narrow space between the conventional-and-clean (pretty, but sterile & bland) and the conventional-and-dirty (shock photography, skin). Only this space between is aesthetically interesting to me. I searched for it exhaustively in grad school, but only found a couple deep collections: Helmut Newton photos, Tulsa by Larry Clark, the Vice Guide to Dos and Donts. Most of the books were too expensive to buy, and anyway the whole point of collecting imagistic flotsam is not to have to return it to the library. Moreover, as great as (say) the Vice book was, there’s no reason for it to include a nice Joy Division album cover. On Pinterest, there’s no reason not to.

Curate your environment, or it will get curated for you, in disappointing and often contradictory ways.

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When my wife and I shared an apartment in Long Beach, we ran into exactly this problem. She insisted that I throw away my rock ‘n roll posters, on the grounds that she didn’t want “to live in a dorm room.” I did throw them away, and then found myself in a living room decorated with throw pillows, crafted paper, and a child’s toy horse (with a pink ribbon). It was as nauseating as it sounds. On the other hand, we had a Suicide Girls DVD on our DVD rack, and that didn’t work well either — it was an elephant that stepped into the room whenever we had people over to watch a movie. (Not that they were offended, necessarily; it was just an abrupt change from the Woody Allen and Coen Bros. movies.) As an academic, I of course knew people who covered their homes in wild abstract art, or nude pictures of themselves, or etc., and the effect is an unpleasant visual assault.

An online gallery circumvents this problem. It’s not perpetually shouting from every corner of the room, and it doesn’t cost a dime. You can export your pins easily, and they’re in the cloud, instead of remaining a random .jpg file. I can survive without these slides, burying my head in books, movies, and music. But I’d rather not have to sacrifice the visual arts. They’re tinder for my own writing; I watch, fascinated, as they burn without burning up.

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(POSTSCRIPT: It’s really wonderful that Pinterest enables embedding. It means that bloggers like myself can use photos without merely stealing them. It’s also nice that Pinterest will probably make its investors rich, so it’ll stick around and evolve.)

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