Glorieta Mudéjar in Havana

Cuba Likes a Dome

But Pixabay Doesn’t …

It is immediately obvious when you visit Cuba that this country loves a dome. From the glorious El Capitolio, to the neglected Glorieta Mudéjar in Vedado, and the rotunda in Cienfuegos’s Parque Jose Marti, they’re everywhere.

A typical example is the Museo Nacional de la Lucha contra Bandidos, a Monastery repurposed as a Museum, where the collection gives pause to reflect on the price of freedom and free will. On the day we visited, a framed view of this building’s dome encapsulated the complexity and contradiction we found in Cuba: palm trees without a blue sky, the colour of hope in a country that can’t afford paint.

As a traveller, I take scores of photos. Many are simply reminders of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen; others are more carefully considered images that represent a time, a place, and a point of view. Over time, I’ve built up quite a portfolio.

Recently, I decided to share some of my work on Pixabay, which is “the world’s leading platform for free CC0 images and videos”, “a vibrant community of creatives, sharing copyright free images and videos”, and a business built on the goodwill of others. Its suppliers are people who take photos and provide them to Pixabay at no cost.

As soon as you register for an account, you are asked to contribute. There is no obligation, but a seductive offer of “no ads” for those that meet the minimum requirement. If you decide to proceed, the only guideline is to “show us your best images”. In reality, that’s an unlikely scenario. There’s no payment after all.

Accordingly, my initial contribution is a couple from a weekend break; one photo of a cocktail and another of Astro Boy. He’s bright and cheerful, and has a worldwide following. But the community says no. Five people like this image and twelve do not, so Astro Boy doesn’t make the cut.

Astro Boy Lockers

Images offered to Pixabay are put on a conveyor belt so the community can easily appraise them. Members sit at their monitors (or look at their phones) and click a tick (to indicate acceptance) or a cross (rejection) as each image is shown on the screen. When a photo has collected eleven crosses, it is returned to sender. Passing the community appraisal is the first step. The Editor subsequently checks all accepted images and decides whether they are Pixabay quality or not.

Considering the type of people who use photo sharing services, I presume it’s likely they would need images to illustrate articles and presentations so try a more conceptual approach. A couple of images in blue, both taken locally. Five positive votes in one case, two in the other, though not before eleven people had clicked the red **X** that decides a candidate’s fate. Changing tack, I go with real people and proceed to upload a photo shoot on Clovelly Beach and semi-abstract silhouette that could illustrate any number of situations.

Clovelly Photo Shoot

Gliding and Striding

Once more the community is unimpressed. My photo of the young model having her make up retouched is perceived as being only marginally better than the woman against the light, with a score of twelve against and three in favour.

I’m a little frustrated, but decide to persevere. A study in black and white from the Esther Schipper Gallery in Berlin – nine for and eleven against.  Japanese lanterns in Kyoto, two for and eleven against, rocks by Oscienensee in the Swiss Alps, not for us thank you. No reason is given for any rejections, other than that the images do not meet the quality standards. A couple nearly make it, with votes of eleven to nine (the barbed wire star), and twelve to eight (the rose), while a photo of an orchid that was uploaded at the same time is accepted.

Star and Rose

Eventually, persistence pays off and a couple more in the waiting bay are magically moved under my Profile page, and people start downloading them.

Encouraged now, I continue. Unfortunately, success is short lived with Backyard Lemon Tree accepted, while London Fashion Week is not. Comparing the Pixabay-preferred items against those that have been rejected leaves me mystified; there is no clear reason why only some are considered suitable. When a beautifully spare and crisp depiction of dessert at Kigawa does not record a single in-favour vote, it is time to try and work out what’s going on.

Kigawa Dessert

Pixabay doesn’t offer much Help. The quality guidelines convey that photographs must have a well defined subject, clear focus, and compelling colours. There are also technical requirements to ensure the image is fit for reproduction and has not been heavily manipulated during editing. A forum topic encourages those whose images have been rejected to ask for details – “Please post the link to your content and we or experienced members of our community will give you feedback”. Ordinarily, a few with experience offer suggestions, but it falls to the Administrators to approve or reject reappraisal requests. Browsing his decisions gives the impression there’s some elasticity in the quality guidelines and the site can accommodate photos that it deems are not gold standard.

  • I think the lamp is acceptable. Maybe not ideal concerning contrast and the mesh background, but it’s okay.
  • I’ve approved it. It’s not quite sharp, but okay.
  • … I’ve just approved the first uploaded image. It is quite tilted and shows over exposure in the sky. But it’s okay with an eye turned blind.
  • The colors are “enhanced” artificially too much. I agree with [Editor’s] decision, but I’ve yet approved it, because it doesn’t really hurt.
  • I’ve approved this photo, even if it is not entirely sharp. But the subject is very rare. (an aquarium plant)
  • This photo is just okay. Colors are partly overexposed and the angle/image section isn’t ideal.
  • … because of the overall setting and it may be a bit tilted. But it doesn’t hurt, so it’s approved now.
  • It’s acceptable. The lower part of the image is good, the upper not ideal. The reflection and lighting/colors is not really good in this section.
  • Photo quality is not all about technical perfection. Image composition and details are just as important. Also, an image doesn’t have to be perfect in technical aspects to be good. It’s the overall expression and atmosphere that really counts.

I post a request asking for more detail about the quality standards that a couple of my images do not meet. The response comes quickly – “No clear subject and poor colors.” I ask for clarification of “poor colours” and am advised that “It’s not just the dull colors. There are several things clearly wrong with these images. Please read the quality guidelines.”

Having read the quality guidelines several times, and having seen the arbitrary way in which they are applied, I find this response less than helpful. I respond to this effect, but unfortunately a massive argument (not related to my post) between a couple of Pixabay regulars captivates attention and no further detail is forthcoming.

A day or so later, I repeat my question and this unleashes a shitstorm, not from the Administrator but from a bystander, annoyed by my request for more detail. He critiques my photos, asks a couple of questions, and finishes up by saying I should buy a $5,000 camera which “will not help you at all, but it will boost the economy!” Taken aback but undeterred, I answer his questions, thank him for revealing a couple of spots that were overexposed, and explain that the muted colours are true to life. He strikes back, pointing out even more flaws and proposing a further reason for my failure – I “used a phone”! According to this reviewer, anyone can “just throw your camera in the air and get a nice colourful shot” in the country where these photos were taken, and I “do not know how to view an image at 100%”.

Notwithstanding, I’m none the wiser. When the Administrator returns to the discussion, he doesn’t ask the previous reviewer to refrain from insulting contributors or offer useful insight. Rather, he repeats himself and adds a threat to revoke my upload privileges if I don’t toe the line.

Finally, It strikes me how silly this whole situation is. Pixabay’s revenue comes from donations and advertisements and I’m prepared to share my work, free of charge, to help Pixabay earn an income, but this trial-and-error approach to acceptance is simply not worth my time. No doubt there are others who would enjoy my point of view, but they won’t be seeing any more of my work via Pixabay.

Just in case you are wondering about the very poor quality image that was deemed unsuitable, it’s the one below. Some others that were rejected can be found on Flickr.



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