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x - close Recent Stories By Gina Kim


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It's a snap: Photoblogging a hot online trend

By Gina Kim -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Monday, May 23, 2005

You don't know Michael Zhang, but do a little pointing and clicking and you'll find out he's a Davis Senior High School student, plays tennis and bought an ostrich burger and chips for $6 two months ago.

It's all there for the world to see on this 17-year-old's photoblog where he chronicles everything, including how he felt the first time he ate a Quiznos sandwich.

"Quiznos is awesome. Very awesome. Awesome and good," he wrote.

Zhang is part of the future of Weblogging, going beyond simply sharing thoughts in cyberspace to allow strangers a very visual look into his private life.

He sometimes takes 100 photos in a day, ranging from shots of his friends to pictures of food. He picks up to 20 and uploads them daily to his blog, an online diary of sorts (http:// blog.michaelzhang.com).

The majority of blogs today include some photography, said Caterina Fake, cofounder of Flickr, an online photo-sharing community launched last year and growing by 30 percent a month.

While the 152,000 members range from active participants to the once-in-a-few weeks uploaders, they have already posted 14.7 million pictures, she said.

Since the end of 2003, it has become easier to put photos online because Internet connections are faster, digital cameras cheaper and camera phones are readily available.

"It's taking photography to a whole new level," said Larry Pryor, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication. "Every person can be a photojournalist."

While Zhang won't take pictures of the exterior of his home and rarely posts photographs of his parents, no one else is spared from his shutter. There are photos of store clerks, teachers, classmates and paramedics. There are scenes from church services, concerts, movies and restaurants.

He doesn't ask permission to take anyone's photo and, surprisingly, most people don't wonder why he's taking their picture. "Some people give me looks and they think I'm weird," he said.

Andrew DeVigal, who teaches online journalism at San Francisco State University, sees Zhang's Web site as a product of the human desire to leave a mark on the world.

"In some ways, it's an opportunity to say, 'Hey, here I am and I'm relevant,' regardless if anybody's listening," DeVigal said.

DeVigal, who keeps his own photoblog, doesn't worry about strangers seeing into his life, even though an online counter shows that people look most at the pictures of his wife and dog.

"I don't feel like I'm revealing anything that would jeopardize who I am or the well-being of my wife," he said. "Most people who do look at my stuff are going to be my friends."

Zhang began taking photos about three years ago. He realized that while he documented trips to China or amusement parks, routine days seemed to blur together.

He decided to ingrain those into his memory by regularly shooting candid shots, organizing them by date, and posting them on the Web site.

"(Days) kind of disappeared and faded from my memory," recalled Zhang, who will be attending the University of California, Davis, this fall. "But now I can remember them clearly because all of them have a title and pictures."

Since Dec. 16, when he put his first post on the blog, Zhang has been chronicling what he eats, who he sees and pretty much everything else he does.

He's never far from his digital camera, which weighs 7.1 ounces.

Every once in awhile, Zhang will get home and realize he's forgotten to take pictures. So he'll run around the house, looking for something interesting to shoot or make his younger brother practice slam dunks.

"It's really interesting to look back on any day and remember what you did that day, to have memories in the future to share," Zhang said.

"I'm sure people are looking back and they hoped or wished they took more pictures at some time in their lives."

While Zhang doesn't keep track of how many people visit his site, comments are mainly posted by friends and every once in a while by a stranger.

A daily visitor to the photoblog is Zhang's mother, Joy Tian, who doesn't have to ask her son how his day went.

While she sometimes gets miffed about the junk food consumed or rowdy behavior, for the most part, the blog reaffirms what she already knows about her son - he's a good kid surrounded by good friends.

And she especially likes it when he pays attention to even the smallest details, whether a snail on a calla lily or caterpillar on a leaf.

"He really enjoys life," said Tian, who works as research associate at the University of California, Davis. "That's what I'm really proud of."

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