The Playgrounds of Flickrville

The web is wide and deep – an ever expanding repository of sound, text and light. We’re in a golden age of information sharing. On the images side of the equation, it’s a global photorush and Flickr is the motherlode. With 4 billion images and counting, this is a visual feast fit for a gourmet. It is now established as one of the primary digital meeting places for people who want to share photos and their interest in specific subject matter.

There are Flickr enthusiasts posting photos of rockets, urban gardens, landscapes, volcanoes, disasters, cars and yes, frogs. A coterie of devotees is staking out the Flickrville playground claim in the world’s largest photo gallery. Some are casual contributors simply using ‘playground’ as a tag. Others are more methodical and selective documenting, for example, the ever dwindling stock of ‘old’ playground equipment.

The Mayor of Neato Coolville is in the latter category. He has a soft spot for playgrounds. In fact, playgrounds are partially responsible for the incorporation of his on line municipality.

In the late 90s, my wife and I went back to my elementary school to take photos of the playground. It was torn down, gone. We had just driven past the previous week and it had still been there. I was distraught. The kindergarten playground was still there so we took some photos of that. It was later torn down too.

All these playgrounds are just disappearing. It’s like someone sneaks in overnight and takes them all down and removes them to somewhere, who knows where. It just opened up something in me to start taking photos of old things that were disappearing – playgrounds, signs, buildings, old movie theatres.

Mayor of Neato Coolville, aka Todd Franklin

A search for ‘playgrounds’ on everyone’s uploads returns nearly half a million hits. That’s fine for a time-is-no-object casual meander that allows poking about in a random, stumbly kind of way. Make no mistake there are wonderful compositions in this broad body of work. The riches can be refined by adding other key words to ‘playgrounds’ in the search box. The Playground Beat Gallery I curated is a small representative sample of arresting images found using the search function.

Flickr’s ‘group pools’ are an excellent entry point into zeroing in more quickly on images and photographers with a playground focus. Their content ranges from the general catch all to the somewhat esoteric.

Playgrounds Group Pool – 1,098 members, 5,124 items

This Group Pool is Flickr’s primary organized/categorized home for all stuff playground. A great place to dip your toes in.

Old Playground Furniture Group Pool – 341 members, 1,787 items

Browsing through this Group Pool you can pick up a serious case of equipment envy particularly if you’re a member of Generation X or Y. As a Boomer, I’m looking a lot of this equipment and wondering where it was when I was in the midst of my bone rattling playground days. Check the Old Playground Furniture Gallery for some representative photos.

Playground Animals Group Pool- 111 members, 650 items

Ducks, dolphins, frogs, toucans, spiders, caterpillars and even an elephant and a giraffe – it’s a full cast here in this playground menagerie. There is a large spring rider contingent, as well as roundabouts/merry go rounds, climbers, swings, slides. This pool is the Noah’s Ark of Flickrville playground collections.

Lonesome Spring Rocker Animals Group Pool – 60 members, 209 items

Tomayto – tomahto, spring rocker – spring rider. This is a smaller menagerie all spring mounted and ready to ride.

DLM (Dispositivi Ludici a Molla) Group Pool – 65 members, 534 items

DLM is the Italian equivalent of spring rockers. This Group Pool’s photos are primarily in European locations though there is some cross-over with the Lonesome Spring Rocker Animal Pool which features more North American content.

Flickr’s building block for individual photographers is the ‘set’. From my limited use of the platform, there doesn’t seem to be any methodical way to search for sets, or for ‘collections’ – sets of sets. Following are few sets that caught my interest.

Neato Coolville Municipal Playground Set – 70 photos

Mayor Todd is passionate about old playscapes. The school playgrounds in his hometown of Osage Beach, Missouri hold a lot of great, and sometimes scary, memories. “In kindergarden we all used to sit on the merry-go-round and the teacher would spin us round and round and naturally I end up falling off. So I roll underneath and I just see all these legs and feet going round and round and I can’t get up. I’m trapped and I’m screaming for the teacher to get me up, get me up. Finally she put a stop to it. I think she had a hard time hearing all my screams through the other kids’ laughter…” As a self-described accidental archivist, Mayor Todd is always on the lookout for equipment to preserve for the photographic record.

Ohio – Old Playgrounds Set – 727 photos

Scottamus’ flickr offerings are shot exclusively in Ohio. There is a great variety of material ranging from the old playgrounds to signs, abandoned schools, roadside oddities, etc. In terms of the number of images in his photostream, playgrounds appear to take the day.

Playgrounds Set – 51 photos

Amorphity comments on his Playgrounds Set shot primarily in Singapore, “I’ve always believed that supermarkets tell more about a culture than museums – looking through my image archive I am slowly thinking that the same could be true about playgrounds …” There is a lot on offer in Amorphity’s photostream particularly if you are interested in architecture.

Vintage Miracle Equipment Company Ads Set – 49 images

Nels P. Olsen has put together a retrospective of catalogue fare from the Miracle Equipment Company, from the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s that includes their Space Ship and Astro City. For more on Miracle click through to Tall George’s story on the Astro City Rocket Slide. Nels has also contributed numerous photos to the Old Playground Furniture Group Pool.

HDR Playgrounds Set – 44 photos

Student photographer Josh Corrie added these images shot in England last month. The high dynamic range imaging is quite arresting in tandem with the with the angles and perspectives Josh has used.

A special thanks to Todd Franklin, Mayor of Neato Coolville, for his assistance with this post. Thanks also to Amorphity and Scottamus for allowing PlayGroundology to post their photos. Lastly, a broader thanks to all those people sharing their playground photos on Flickr and other platforms.

In the course of writing this post, I came across a couple of new-to-me resources that may be of interest to more recent Flickr photo miners like myself.

    - flickriver is an excellent tool for viewing photos in a continuous stream. This web-based viewer for Flickr searches by photos, groups, users, tags and places.


    - Flickr Hive Mind is a search engine as well as an experiment in the power of Folksonomies. All thumbnail images come directly from Flickr, none are stored on Flickr Hive Mind.

The final word goes to Todd Franklin, Mayor of Neato Coolville.

“What’s cool about the playground when you’re a kid is all the crazy stories. We talked about Gene Simmons of KISS having a cow’s tongue sewn onto his own – silly rumours. For kids, the playground was equivalent to the adults’ water cooler at work.” Give me a playground any day…

Note – the number of members and photos referenced in association with Group Pools and Sets was accurate on the day of publishing. These numbers are constantly in flux.

Photo credits in order of appearance.

    1. Neato Coolville
    2. Scottamus
    3. Scottamus
    4. Neato Coolville
    5. Amorphity
    6. Neato Coolville

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

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4 responses to “The Playgrounds of Flickrville

  1. I do the same thing too, endlessly driving around looking for something cool, old, and potentially exstinct to photograph.

    Todd, I’m interested in the orange character in that first photo… looks like a Basil Wolverton design. Do you know anything about it?

  2. Karswell – I haven’t found any info on the orange character. When I ran across this, I almost flipped ’cause it resembles a Wolverton character. My guess is that it was inspired by his artwork and many of the other zany designs from the 1960′s.

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