Sunday, January 25, 2009


I haven't got much for you at the moment apart from the fact that Bordeaux was struck by storms and extremely high winds over the weekend — and in an unrelated but far more serious incident — our dishwasher broke down.

But rather than regale you with stories of my disrupted life, I'll tell you about a little group I created on Flickr — The Robert Louis Stevenson group. I was looking for photographs related to RLS for a paper I gave a couple of months ago and found a few on everyone's favourite photo-sharing site, Flickr. But they were scattered all over the place, some were tagged with the author's full name, some with just RLS and some with some wild misspellings such as Robert Lewis Stephenson. So I created the group, then started inviting people to contribute their photos and the pool has now grown to include 255 items. It's not a scholarly enterprise of course - the photographs are disparate to say the least. There are lots of quite ordinary images, snapshots really, of places that RLS once lived: Heriot Row in Edinburgh and Vailima in Samoa notably; scanned pages from his books; photographs of monuments to his memory; portraits and statues of his slender figure. But these photographs are often very personal - showing what it's really like to visit the house at Vailima and then slog up the hill in tropical heat to RLS's burial site or what the front door of the house in Heriot Row looks like from the open top of a tour bus. Some of the photographs too have wildly inaccurate descriptions eg. "Robert Louis Stevenson was born in California...." but that's interesting as well. And then there are the contemporary black-and-white photographs, most of which are held in public collections (eg. at the National Library of Scotland), bodies which more and more often are sharing their old photographs on Flickr. Then the worn old books and the often beautiful illustrations inside them, and the lurid covers and intriguing titles of some foreign editions.

Now, to keep the group going, all I have to do is carry out a quick search on Flickr about once a week for any photographs that might be related to Stevenson, then invite the owners to join the group using a handy little drop-down menu that appears automatically under photographs for group administrators, and it's a strangely addictive and satisfying exercise. I'd thoroughly recommend creating a group if there's anything photographic you're particularly interested in: orange sweaters, cracked teapots, characters from your home village, anything goes. I'm thinking of setting up another one devoted just to pictures of piles of unwashed dinner dishes.

Here are the most recent additions to the group pool:


materfamilias said...

About 15 years ago, we did a Grand Randonée in the Auvergne that intersected the route Stevenson hiked with his donkey -- I especially remember a mutually toothless old couple sitting in the sunshine in front of their house delightedly quizzing us about whether or not we knew Stevenson or at least knew we were following his path -- I didn't get the impression that they were readers at all, but RLS had become part of the area's mythology.

Anonymous said...

How cool! I have always wondered about groups on Flickr but never really thought about why one would be started. I am impressed!

Our Juicy Life said...

We had horrible winds and rain on Saturday as well, many huge trees fell in our meadow (blocking the road) flooding, no power, etc. Sorry about the dishwasher (we don't have one here, argh!).

Very interesting about RLS.....i have never heard of him.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago I crossed the Pacific on a cargo ship (it took 16 days (from the Panama canal I think).
First stop, Samoa. As well as the massive tropical vegetation everything was stunning, not least the men in sarongs(?) waiting on the quay.
While wandering about I walked past Stevenson's house but didn't go and visit his grave.
Later I overheard an American woman complaining that there was no lift to get up there and that one should be built ... I remember my heart sinking!

I do hope Notre vie Juteuse will read Travels with a donkey, it is very funny. I discovered it quite late too because when I first met my husband he told me he had called his first bike Modestine ... at the time I didn't get it!

Anonymous said...

At least it's warmer than in the UK. Spent a wonderful few days in a little village/hamlet called Virsac over the summer on the way down to Spain. Lovely part of the world.

Anne said...

If you start an unwashed dishes group, let me know.

Lesley said...

Materfamilias : A lot of the followers in Stevenson's footsteps remark on how knowledgeable the locals in the Cévennes seem to be about Stevenson and his itinerary without ever having actually read the book.

Nancy: It was easy peasy.

Vie Juteuse: I'm sure you've heard of the books Jekyll and Hyde, Treasure Island, Kidnapped etc. so you've heard of RLS!

Deborah: Many years ago......that means it must be time to go back for a return visit. Did you keep a diary of your trip on the cargo ship?

Anne: Panic over, dishwasher fixed. But what I really need is an industrial-sized model.

Anonymous said...

No, I didn't keep a diary, Lesley. But with a little effort I can conjure up a lot. I'll work on it NOW, much better idea for my retirement than the family tree craze!

Lucy said...

That's very enterprising of you. I appear to be an administrator of a group on Flickr - can't remember which - and have no idea how that happened. But I was very pleased the other day when one of my contacts started a Breton horses group and asked me to join, as I'd looked for one before and not found one.

I might put in an RLS tagged photo for you to find me!


Being confined indoors most of the day, just the four of us, is reminding me of the days when my children were wee and most of our weekends ...