Governments and Groups on Flickr

Photography: The U.S. Army

If you have a Flickr stream you’re now in the best company. Even if you never get invited to a garden party, never feel the tap of a sword on your shoulder, never have to make small talk with the Prince of Wales, you can at least console yourself by remembering that you are at least sharing a patch of cyberspace with the British monarchy. The Windsors have launched their own Flickr stream.

They’re not the only official body to share their images with the hoi polloi though. Here’s a list of some of the biggest governments, departments and international organizations who have chosen to put their pictures on Flickr, what you can find on their streams — and what their decision means for photographers and image users.

The British Monarchy

A quick glance at the images on the opening page of the British royal family’s Flickr stream is likely to have you clicking away quickly. Most of the shots appear to be dull wire photos of various Royal engagements, from a visit to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine to a shot of the Duchess of Cornwall sounding the noon whistle on the Queen Victoria. Take a look at the sets though and you can browse a number of far more interesting vintage pictures, including one collection of fascinating pictures by Marcus Adams. Sometimes, dull pictures can become a lot more interesting when they’re old.

The UK Prime Minister’s Office

Judging by the lack of any contacts on their profile, the British Royals do seem to be a fairly unpopular bunch. The Prime Minister however has lots of friends — at least official ones. While his images tend to be the usual PR-style official snaps, helpfully released under creative commons licenses (the Royals are holding on to their pictures), his contacts include a number of UK government departments, including the Cabinet Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It’s nice to see that the new PM has friends — and that his staff understand the social aspect of social media.

Barack Obama

That the candidate who did the most to change the way politicians think about social media should have such an impressive Flickr stream is hardly surprising. President Obama’s Flickr stream started during the presidential election, now has 2,690 sets, and includes some amazing shots taken of the family as they waited for the results on election night. It represents the difference between an official body that knows social media exists and a body that knows what users of social media want.

The White House

The White House’s Flickr stream takes up where the more political Barack Obama stream leaves off. It might be official and it might be governmental but it contains some fascinating pictures. The series showing the first 100 days in office is as historical as the Queen’s old shots — but displays history in the making. (They’re also available for people to make of them whatever they want).

The US Army

The US Army’s Flickr stream contains a real mixture of images, from battlefield visits from leading politicians to the battles themselves. The “year in photos” sets make for the easiest browsing but don’t miss the guidelines on the profile page. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to bellowed at by a drill sergeant, here’s your chance.

You can also take a look at the contacts page. The US Army is apparently friends with lots of people, including soldiers, their families, admirers around the world, and individual divisions.

The United Nations

Whatever the US Army can do, the United Nations can do just as well — at least when it comes to photography. The UN’s stream contains a number of moving pictures showing the work of the community around the world. Forget the PR shots of the conferences and meetings, and take a look at the Haiti Earthquake set or the images of children. Then browse UNICEF’s own stream as well as the work of the UNHCR.

Save the Children

And if looking at pictures of people helping children can make you a little happier then Save the Children’s stream is worth a visit too. The sets show images from different places but expect to have your heartstrings tugged (and your wallet pressed) by shots of kids enjoying soccer balls, healthy snacks and bednets — and the amount that you can pay to make your own contribution. This is Flickr for fundraising, and it’s hard to fault.


AusAid is the Australian governments overseas aid program and what makes its Flickr stream so special isn’t just the quality of its images — or their subjects — but the way the pictures are described. Each caption tells a story so that viewers can see how a piece of Indonesian batik is created, for example. It’s a great showcase for the importance of informative image descriptions.

The International Monetary Fund

Not only does the IMF not bother to give its photos titles but you have to wonder why anyone would bother to look at them. The fund missed an opportunity to show what its work actually does, choosing instead to show pictures of meetings and handshakes. It’s dull stuff but if you get really bored, you can always look through the set of archives… where you can see people shaking hands half a century ago.

The World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum’s images are hardly better. The account even has a set called “Historic Handshakes, Hugs & Kisses.” This really isn’t Hollywood though. Unless you’re into seeing people you’ve never heard of making nice to other people you’ve never heard of, give it a skip and take a look at what was happening outside. It’s much more interesting.

There are plenty more official accounts on Flickr, including the European Parliament, the Irish government, and, if you’re really into peace and love, Yoko Ono. You can use the contacts list to see who’s being friendly and who those officials consider friends, but some accounts are certainly more interesting than others — and some have better pictures than others too.

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