Is mobile still newsworthy?
In what has got to be one of the best bits of media coverage of mobile photography, the New York Times today did a piece on an exhibition of mobile photography in Paris. At the time I spotted the article, there were 4 comments online. I braced myself for the usual vitriolic outburst by the traditional photographer who after 35 years of mastering aperture and shutter speed would rather chop off their hand than take a photo with an iphone. And, yes, the first comment was from a photographer of 35 years standing, Leslie Plaza Johnson. But surprisingly there was no vitriol. Her point was that it doesn’t matter what you use. What’s important is whether the image gets an emotion from its viewer.
We’ve seen a lot of media coverage of iphoneography over the last couple of years. When I launched a course in mobile photography back in February, London’s two most widely circulated newspapers carried big articles on it. A course on mobile photography, yes, isn’t that amazing! Whenever exhibitions of mobile photography (like the one in Paris) are announced, the typical media angle is: yes, can you believe it, these beautiful pictures, all taken with your little mobile phone camera.
The nature of the genre is what it is: mobile is incredibly good at close-up photography and has allowed many more people to be creative with their image-making thanks to all the apps. For those reasons, it is a sub-genre in itself, with particular features that mean that blogs like this one have something meaningful to talk about. In the same way that water colours is a sub-genre of painting. But at the end of the day, it is just another way of making images. And one day soon an exhibition by mobile phone artists will be no more newsworthy than an exhibition of water colour enthusiasts. The only thing that will make it newsworthy will be if the images get an emotion. Which in the case of this excellent exhibition, they do.
Does it get an emotion?
It’s just, it’s just… why do people dislike iphoneography so much?
Some time ago I made a mental note of The Photographers’ Gallery’s use of that apostrophe in its name. To me that said: we are serious people with attention to detail. They are, and so is their audience. They love their photography and they are very knowledgeable about it. So it was with great interest that I awaited the reaction to the launch of a course in photography with the iphone. There were some positive reactions, but to summarise (and respond to) the negative - what I call the “It’s just” - ones:
It’s just for snapping. Yes a lot of people use it that way. But a lot of people are using its unique features to get some stunning street photography and are crafting some amazing images with the apps. See iphoneart.com.
It’s just a load of filters. People do start off using filters and, I agree, they’re overdone. But then they move onto to more advanced techniques and apps. And more tools at your fingertips mean more scope for you to express your creativity.
It just undermines photography learning. Not at all. The classic photographic skills (composition, interesting subjects, colour) apply to any camera. Yes, you’ve no need to use your knowledge of DSLR features. But it doesn’t mean you have to stop using your DSLR. And DSLRs do a lot of stuff that, of course, the iphone has no hope of doing. But if you want to take advantage of this new tool (which is really good at candid, street, photojournalism and on-the-go creative) yes you will have to learn some new skills to complement, not replace, your existing ones.
It’s just too easy and takes the art out of photography. It is easy and user-friendly. So it means more people can do photography. That’s good, isn’t it? It’s easy to take and to edit with the iphone but it’s just as difficult to do something that is original and meaningful. You still need vision and heart to produce good images, whatever camera you use. It’s the image that matters, not the camera. Moriyama uses a little point-and-shoot and his photos are currently hanging in the Tate Modern.
Most of the above objections come down to people not really understanding iphoneography. One person thought that Instagram was a camera! And I’ve found a lot of people have no idea about the apps’ massive crafting potential. So there’s a fear-of-the-unknown factor. But surely people can’t resent so many more people suddenly having an outlet for their photographic creativity?
I’ve been taking photos with big cameras for years and I’m a professional photographer too (with a big camera). But mobile photography has unleashed a renewed love for photography and opened up many new possibilities. And thanks to its vibrant communities, it has given my photos a life beyond my hard drive. But don’t take my word for it. I found a great defence of iphoneography here by an award-winning big camera photographer, Damon Winter. To sum up though, it’s just another photography tool.
Listen: it’s just another photography tool