Gray’s Anatoly: And the winner is…
Terry O’Neill is a legendary celebrity photographer, who found fame taking photos of the likes of Clint Eastwood, The Rolling Stones and pretty much every mega-star you could think of in the 60s and 70s. He has been running a highly respected photography competition for eight years and, last year, he launched a mobile category. Needless to say, I didn’t mention this news to anyone before submitting my own photos, hoping that no-one else in the mobile photography community would notice the competition, thereby boosting my chances of winning. My plan obviously worked as I won the category!
The awards ceremony is tonight and I’m feeling a bit like Father Ted after hearing he’d won the Golden Cleric award. But, don’t worry, I’m not preparing a 2-hour long acceptance speech, settling all the old scores of a lifetime, though this blog is, quite clearly, a very thinly-veiled excuse to publicise the fact that I’ve won it.
But I do have a serious point. Like many other people, Terry O’Neill now views mobile photography as a sub-genre of photography where some good work is being done. In recent months, we’ve seen The British Journal of Photography, one of the photography world’s most well respected institutions, launch a mobile-only magazine, called FLTR. Not long ago, Time magazine featured a mobile photo on its cover. Last year, the Taylor Wessing Portraiture prize included a mobile photo in its exhibition. And I noticed (when scouring the internet for more mobile photo competitions), the Smithsonian, another highly respected competition, now also does a mobile category (don’t bother, it’s closed for this year).
The Terry O’Neill Award ceremony tonight brings together the winners of the various categories to announce the overall winner from them. I’m looking forward to chatting with some of the winners of the other categories. Will they think any less of me as a mobile photographer? Do they use their smart phones themselves to take photos? Are they on Instagram? Of course, I think it’s great that Terry O’Neill is taking mobile seriously and has decided to launch a category for it (even more so, since I won it!), but it would obviously be too controversial to award the main prize to a mobile photographer. Whether it would or it wouldn’t, I think the excellent work that I’ve seen in the other categories makes it extremely unlikely. But you never know, dear reader and mobile photographer, put a note in your diary to send in some photos for next year’s competition.
Wouldn’t it be funny if a mobile photographer won the Terry O’Neill one day?
No such thing as a free lunch in photo-sharing platforms
Yay! I set up my own website! That’s the third one I’ve created in my lifetime and the experience is always exhausing. My head craned towards my screen, my eyes strain to check the brackets and the commas in that tiny little font that they use. One little piece of punctuation out of place and the whole thing can come crashing down. And you have to scour blocks of code to find where the problem is. There’s no undo button so you can’t just automatically reverse the brainless error you’ve just made.
My new website is a simple shop window for my mobile photos. I’ve curated the photos into subjects, so it’s a place where people can browse the best of my work without having to see my family snaps or be distracted by a third-party photo-sharing platform’s ads or branding. Each time I’ve gone through this process, I realise how much human resource, expertise and money must go into those slick photo-sharing platforms, which are a thousand times more than a shop window. They are incredibly complex and powerful machines. We take them for granted and we never expect to pay for them. And we are outraged and dismissive if there is even the slightest glitch. Yet we can’t ask for our money back because we didn’t pay any to start with. But as we all know now, we still “pay”, just not with money. We pay through our personal data, we licence our photos to be used in ads and on some platforms now we will be exposing our eyes to ads. But this is the new economy. There’s still no such thing as a free lunch: we just don’t pay for it in luncheon vouchers any more.
Setting up a website can be exhausting
The followocracy fallacy
I read recently that a hotel in Australia will give you a free night’s stay if you have more than 10,000 followers on Instagram. The idea (we suppose) is that you will take some photos, post them on Instagram and give the hotel some PR.
But it’s another example of how having large numbers of Instagram followers gets you free stuff. We might call it a “followocracy”. The more followers you have, the more doors open for you. As a power user, you have power. Over the last few years, we’ve seen how enough followers will get you all-expenses-paid trips if you agree to post pictures of their hotels, handbags or mineral water. Or free tickets to some cool events. Or even just good old-fashioned money. This followocracy is sustained by the belief that power users have some advertising influence through their follower numbers. But don’t advertisers wonder whether power-user value is a bit like a junk-mail delivery service? Yes, they can push things through a lot of people’s front doors, but most will go straight in the rubbish without being read, or there’ll be no-one home or they could start to annoy the recipients.
Some people still labour under the delusion that the quality of a power user’s photos is the reason they have so many followers. Of course, the power users themselves like to believe this too (who wouldn’t?) - this is how Instagram ensures they stay loyal to their platform. Some do happen to be quite good, but that’s not why they have lots of followers. Look closer and you’ll see most have got their follower numbers through Instagram’s suggested user list. Sometimes Instagram gives out large followings in this way to its pals (ie good old-fashioned nepotism), most other times they want people who they think will do good PR on their behalf. And if they weren’t already really a key influencer, in a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy, because Instagram annoints them as such, the world believes they are.
The democratising force of mobile
Mobile photography has been heralded as the new point of entry for photography. Here in the UK, some of our most respected photography institutions (eg The British Journal of Photography, The Photographers’ Gallery, etc) have embraced mobile as a fresh new genre that is attracting new talent to photography. I’ve said more than once that I reckon the Photographic Canon should be grateful so many more people are now doing photography thanks to mobile. And I think many of tomorrow’s Annie Leibovitzes and David Baileys will have started out with mobiles. And since more people are doing photography, standards will be higher too.
When we talk about the democratising force of mobile, we’re usually thinking about kids in baseball caps who are now trying out photography when they wouldn’t have 10 years ago. But here’s an initiative that stretches the reach of photography even further, putting cameras and photography skills in the hands in people who aren’t wearing baseball caps, who because of their marginalisation in society would be unlikely to pick a camera. It’s a project called Heart of a Woman and its aim is to empower women on the margins of South African society to take photos with mobile devices. Not only might they be able to sell their own photos, but the project will do for them exactly what mobile photography did for me, and for many others - give them a new and exciting means of creative personal expression.
Wasn’t it great for us when we discovered mobile photography? Well, you can help Heart of a Woman allow many more people experience that same buzz. You can make it happen in many ways, by doing your own blog, by tweeting, by donating your old iphone and, of course, putting your hand in your pocket. If you really believe in the democratising power of this new photographic genre, put your money (or efforts) where your mobile is.
Not just for kids in baseball caps
Gray’s Anatoly: your Instagram picture-track
(WARNING: slightly self-indulgant blog post)
Love em or hate em, Instagram provides a useful picture-track (I just invented that term, it’s like a soundtrack but in pictures) to our lives over the last two or three years. When my wife asked me: when did we go to Corsica? I reply, well it must have been after March 20, 2011 (the day of my first Instagram) because I’ve got Instagram photos from there. With each photo, I remember what we were doing and often the process of taking the photo that I went through.
So I decided to map my1,652 Instagrams in chronological order (more for my own benefit than yours) to date. I know you can get a map of all your Instagrams but that doesn’t map the “when”:
March 28, 2011: Lisbon; April 25: Brighton; May 1: Bruges; June 18: Auntie’ Maggie’s 70th; June 30: Arcade Fire in Hyde Park; July 9: Corsica; July 15: Latitude festival; July 31: Brighton; August 9: London riots; August 26: Rock en Seine festival, Paris; September 3: End of the Road festival; September 18: the apple crop; September 24: David Graham NPG workshop; October 10: Grayson Perry exhibition; October 22: Instagramers exhibition; October 29: Almeria; November 18: Norwich; November 29: Pixel This exhibition; January 1, 2012: Isle of Wight; January 7: Brighton; February 6: Bristol; February 15: Apple Store talk; February 19: Morzine; February 27: Aunty Maggie’s funeral; March 31: Highgate Cemetary; April 15: Dubrovnik; May 2: Other Cinema; May 6: Torrevieja; May 14: iphoggy launch; May 21: Luton playoff at Wembley; June 3: Applecart festival; June 9: No Direction Home festival; July 6: St Albans, J’s birthday; July 14: Latitude festival; July 26: Olympics; August 16: new season at Luton; August 23: Campus Party Berlin; August 26: Brighton; September 1: End of the Road festival; September 9: V’s birthday; September 29: Madrid, Vejer, Jerez; November 7: KCC exhibition; January 23, 2013: Snow in London; Feburary 1: San Fransisco, New York; March 11: Jura; April 6: Brighton; April 23: Wake Fest; May 5: Surf Savers; May 15: Ostend; May 31: Field Day festival; June 3: Berlin; June 26: Galaxy experiment; July 14: Latitude festival; August 3: Holi Festival; August 10: Brighton; August 18: Greenman Festival; August 30: End of the Road festival; September 7: Bordeaux.
Between these noteworthy events are pictures from various football matches, concerts, wanders around London, business trips to Zurich, cycle commutes, museum visits, rounds of golf and train journeys. What a life we lead.
Gray’s Anatoly: The 5 most underrated photo apps
I’ve noticed that everything in the mobile photography world is the top 10 this, or the 50 best that. Well, a top 50 sounds like a lot of hard work for me, but if it means some extra blog traffic, I like an underdog, so instead of a best of, here’s my 5 most underrated apps:
1) Slow Shutter Cam. While people sing the praises of apps that separate focus and exposure (a function with almost no use at all) this app does something completely radical with the photo-taking function. Yet the developers have 9 followers on Twitter (10 now) and they haven’t got round to posting a profile pic. In the hands of a skilled operator their app is a tool that is being used to create some of the most imaginative work in the mobile world.
2) Quick Camera. I don’t necessarily think Twitter follower numbers is a reflection of importance, but the developers of this app, the cutely named Melon Labs, are so unassuming, they have only just joined Twitter and have 0 followers. Yeah, what a waste of time, we’d rather be coding than tweeting. But Quick Camera beats some of the Real Madrids of the mobile photography world such as Camera+ by offering burst mode in FULL resolution. ¡Toma ya!
3) Photo Wizard: As thousands of mobile photographers are induced by top-dollar advertising to grapple endlessly with the intricacies of PS Touch (and then it crashes on them again), Photo Wizard makes blending and masking beautifully simple. The charming Pankaj Goswami (17 Twitter followers) from Bangalore is the creator of this superb app, which is now being offered free! You’re under-selling yourself mate!
4) Decim8. The punk rocker of the mobile community, this app was designed for “photographic destruction” and takes great anti-establishment pleasure in mashing up our pixels and putting them back together in totally weird ways. Its developer, the foul-mouthed Kris Collins is too cool to have a website but Wire Magazine gave his app a stonking 9/10. Traditionalist mobile observers may avert their eyes when they meet a Decim8ed image, but this app is the future. No future!
5) Instagram. Many people believe that after selling out to Facebook, providing a monolithic platform for a billion photos of nail-painting teens, lurid plates of food and mind-numbing sunsets, and encouraging a mindless culture of chasing likes and followers with no regard for photographic quality, Instagram is now an app with little or not interest. On the contrary, it has inspired a new generation of photographers and has almost single-handedly launched a vibrant new photographic movement. Not to be overlooked.
Decim8: the punk rocker of the mobile community
So I guess InstaMug will never happen
My business plans to launch InstaMug took a blow last week when it was revealed by Life in Lofi that Instagram’s lawyers are going to stop people using the terms “Insta” and “Gram”. A global corporate empire is crushed in its infancy.
Meanwhile another global corporate empire goes from strength to strength. And how did it get so strong? Because not-for-profit communities like Instagramers and companies like Statigram developed services around the Instagram name and API, which spread Instagram’s popularity to every corner of the world and added enhanced functionality to what would otherwise have been quite a limited tool. Instagramers did the work of a million community managers for Instagram, while Statigram developed a cutting-edge web platform that puts Instagram’s apology of a website to shame. So the company saved millions of dollars while others did their work for them. And until recently, it positively encouraged them to do so: its terms explicitly said they could use “insta” and “gram”. But now it thinks it’s big enough that it doesn’t need these little people for its success. So it’s dumping them.
What is it with companies when they get big? They go from being perfectly nice and polite to being selfish and money-grabbing. When they get successful, they can’t leave it at that, they have to have more. Well, in Instagram’s case, it’s because they are run by Facebook, which in turn has shareholders who want a return on their money. While we continue sharing our photos with Instagram, it progressively shares less of the benefits of its business with the people who helped make it big.
Stop! I want to make some more money!