At Libre Graphics Meeting 2019 in Saarbrücken, I had the fun and privilege to do a quick interview with Pat David, founder of Pixls.us and contributor to GIMP. We talked about how his project evolved and where he thinks we are with free/libre photography tools presently.
This was essentially the second video interview I ever did. The first one (with Krita team), done a few hours prior to that, was a complete flop (technically), and this one is only marginally better. So, sorry about me being this awkward dude. I will do better :)
If you prefer reading text, below goes the rough transcription.
I’m joined today by the magnificent Pat David from Pixls.us, also from GIMP, also known as Pat Davis.
Yes, all hail Pat Davis.
So, Pat, Pixls at the beginning and Pixls right now are two significantly different projects because when Pixls started, it was kind of expected to be this huge host of excellent GIMP tutorials and today it looks slightly different than that because it’s like this huge big discussion board. So why do think that happened?
That’s funny, I think you were even on the original slide where I had talked about making better GIMP tutorials and as being a reason for building Pixls.us.
I think it changed because the community that began to grow up around it needed a place and a way to communicate with each other, share images, talk about how they do things, and so a natural extension of the website originally was to then produce a forum for everyone to get together.
And, you know, as most things happen, if we have a lot of people speaking with each other and contributing on a forum, it will tend to grow much faster than the way the site itself because they have way more time to make comments and posts. Then I have to write tutorials and articles to keep up with them. So that kind of grew on that side very much.
So Pixls has a kind of an acquisition thing going on. I mean darktable, Filmulator, G’MIC, and other projects basically use your discussion board as the main discussion board for themselves. So what’s your dark deep secret of getting them?
A dark deep secret is make friends and be kind.
That’s all you need to do.
Yes, very much. I think, as you know, we built Pixls so that these projects wouldn’t have to worry about that infrastructure themselves.
Nobody that makes a free software image editor starts it so that they could have to moderate a forum about it. That wasn’t really their first intention.
But we as part of the community can write, we have people that can moderate things and can engage with the community and they don’t have to take time away from the developers of the programs themselves and the projects themselves.
Those folks are best spending their time developing new features or fixing bugs, not moderating comments or dealing with discussions that happen.
So we offered it to them, we said: “Hey, I know David Tschumperlé, or Jo at darktablem and Tobim and said: “If you want this, it’s here, and we’re happy to manage all of that stuff for you, so you don’t have to”. Then they came aboard.
So I think between that and being kind and friendly and nice whenever possible they came on board. Yeah, it’s been great.
Awesome! So, one thing I’ve noticed is that discussions on, well, generally most Linux user groups and free software user groups tend to be quiet a lot on the technical side. Which is a fine thing because we need this [software] to work as expected. But on the other hand, do you think we have enough artistic discussions? In fact, do we know how to encourage them to appear? Do we know how to moderate these discussions?
Yeah that’s a great question. I don’t feel like we have enough artistic discussions happening right now. But it tends to be very technical because the users tend to be very technically inclined.
But we have slowly at least on the Pixls forum started to have some interesting discussions, for instance, around certain photographers in their work.
We had one about Eggleston and his ability to find beautiful images in the most mundane places. And it sparked a nice discussion about what about his images were interesting visually and what things he might be doing.
And then we have them for a lot of landscapes and macros and portraits and things like this, and we try to engage that and it’s not too hard. That one’s actually the easiest: find something you love.
I love Dan Winters as a portrait photography, so there’s a great discussion what is it about Dan Winters portraits I like. And you can very easily begin that discussion on the site and let people kind of give you feedback and tell you what they’re thinking. So that kind of thing just needs somebody to occasionally post about something they love and to ask others what they might think about it as well.
You spend a lot of time on Pixls and you mostly talk to people who are already using free software. They are more like veterans who have been around for a long, long time. So you might not get the full picture of what professional users might want from software. How do you deal with that?
That’s right. What we try to do is reach out to a cross-section of those people as much as we can.
The professional users don’t spend a lot of time on the forums because they’re busy being professionals, earning a living, booking new jobsm and doing that kind of work.
But you do occasionally get them to come, and it’s nice because I find if you spend a little bit of time to engage with them — if they have the time — they are gracious with it, so they’ll give you an answer. They’ll tell you what they think and what their needs are. And if you’re an advanced enthusiast or amateur that can engage with them as well, especially on the forums, you get a chance to really be able to say you know why is that, what things are happening herem and how can that affect what I might be doing as well.
So I get to learn basically from from them, from what they need.
Having spent a lot of time in conversations at both Pixls and sites like dpreview.com, what is your understanding of where free software for photography is shining and where it’s still lacking? What’s the big picture in your opinion?
I think that we are in a nice Renaissance of tools that is happening right now.
The raw processors for example are getting much better, much faster, and much more available, and, most importantly, much more approachable for people to use.
Long gone are the days of UFRaw, where I had to really kind of know what the heck your UFRaw’s controls were telling me and how they worked. It was very unintuitive but now we’ve got RawTherapee, we’ve got darktable, we have Photoflow, we have Filmulator.
We have these great projects that are providing new ways of approaching the software or approaching making images and new tools to let you really kind of feel what your creativity can do, not really bounded by the technicality anymore.
So that’s a fantastic aspect of it. That, and brand new features and capabilities in GIMP that are far beyond what we would have had even six years ago is fantastic. This is a very good thing.
The places where we lack I think — our outreach very much. And we’re especially lacking in good quality content to demonstrate to people that these are extra extremely capable projects. And with the exception of maybe some slightly convoluted workflows, which is a nice way of saying “I don’t want to go through 40 steps to do the same thing I can do to in a commercial software”.
But we can get there, and it may take a little more work but I feel the benefits far outweigh the cons.
That is the freedom in the software and the freedom in never ever losing my files. I can go back to my GIMP files from 12 years ago and I can open them without a problem and get right back to work on them if I want. And I don’t if I could do that in another project.
So we are lacking quality material, we’re lacking public outreach and we’re lacking people, making big noise about making cool projects and images with free projects.
But this will change?
Hopefully. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Thank you for joining me!
I’m so glad. Thank you very much!