The mind can sometimes play tricks on you.
After returning from a trip to Europe several months ago, I viewed some of the photos I had taken and was disappointed by how they turned out. I resolved (no pun intended) that it was time to get a new camera.
Some of the pictures were just not as sharp as I had hoped; others, taken in the evening, didn’t record enough information in the after sun-down darkness. Giving up something that I had happily used for several years at home and on vacation was difficult, but it was time.
So off I went and replaced my iPhone 3Gs with a new iPhone 4s. Yes, my camera is my phone. It wasn’t until I was heading to AT&T and not a camera store that this thought crossed my mind. With a snazzy new lens, 8 megapixels and HD video, the camera is most impressive.
I know I am not the first to have had this type of revelatory moment; one where you transfer the characteristics of something known into something new and different. But having spent more than 20 years as a photojournalist, as well as personally reporting on the rise of cellphone cameras, I was still shocked at how easily my brain exchanged the image of a professional SLR for one of a cellphone. Welcome to the 21st century!
So what’s a photographer to do? I could hold onto the past and resurrect my metal, film-fed companions, or their newer, digital counterparts and repeat the mantra that a phone is not a camera. But what’s the point when the vast majority of the active picture taking world has already made that shift? (The iPhone 4 is the most popular camera among Flickr users.)
“Steve Jobs saw this coming” says J. Sybylla Smith, curator of the recent show, “iSee: The Eyes of VII in the Hands of Hipstamatic.” Held at the Griffin Museum of Photography gallery in Boston’s South End, the show featured iPhone photography by 19 photojournalists from the VII Photo Agency. All but one of them used the Hipstamatic iPhone app to record their images.
“The iPhone will have an impact on our visual culture,” Smith said in a phone interview. “We’ll need to make rules and be in discourse for a while about this.”
According to Smith, and several of the photographers featured in the show, the camera phones’ “lack of an interface” broadens photojournalists’ ability to capture images. “It allows for an intimacy and immediacy that the Canon (professional SLR) does not,” she said.
In this statement, I find echoes of conversations had in an earlier time when photographers were first contemplating the move from Speed Graphics and Rolleiflex cameras; with their large film formats (4×5 and 2 ¼, respectively), to the smaller, more nimble and intimate 35mm Leica. Today we are at another inflection point in photography; one where the technology makes a sudden turn and takes the art form with it.
“These camera phones allow the photographer on assignment to quickly enter into a dialogue with the public because of how quickly we can take and transmit images,” Smith says. “Photojournalists are pleased to have another tool in their toolbox.”
Many photojournalists, however, are involved in the other conversation Smith mentioned; what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to the easy digital manipulations that many camera apps make possible.
This “discourse” ignited when The New York Times photographer Damon Winter won a major photo award for his Hipstamatic images from the frontlines in Afghanistan. (Winter’s use of the app created controversy and raised some interesting questions about Read more