Within the last few years the world has seen dramatic growth in social media and social networks. They have become fast, efficient ways to connect with friends, networks of friends, and the world. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have grown businesses, fed revolutions, and connected a world of people that might otherwise not have the opportunity to interact. Similarly, with the advancements of digital cameras incorporated into the hardware of today’s latest smart phones, photographers and amateur photographers alike have been flocking to the medium.
Mobile photography, also know as iPhoneography (for users photographing with an iPhone) has became an effective way to capture, edit, and share. It doesn’t require an expensive camera, or software because all the apps and distribution platforms work within the confines of the phone itself. Immediacy can now allow documentary photographers and photojournalists to get their work published on anything from the front page of a major digital news site to the front page of the New York Times. The ability to capture a photograph of an event, quickly edit it and then share the image with the world has transformed journalism and the world itself.
For photography purists, this provides somewhat of a conundrum. The first convulsion of serious photographers was the transition from film to digital. Nearly a decade ago photographs couldn’t be justified as ‘serious’ or ‘fine-art’ unless they were shot with film. After many technological advancements the quality of digital images became almost indistinguishable from that of film. Today digital has become legitimized in the world of photography. Ironically protests about photography have been around since the medium first started. Back in the early days of photography, professional artists scoffed at the medium as something not worthy of artistic merit. Now, the same bemusement and lack of appreciation seems to be taking place with mobile phone photography.
I find the iPhone to in many ways be a more effective and even honest tool for capturing the world around me then my DSLR. When I raise my digital camera to my eye it has become apparent I am there to take a picture. This can cause people to react uncomfortably or choose to present themselves in the way they would like to be seen rather then be captured in the truth of the moment. This truth of capturing the moment and conveying it as if the viewer is there is especially important in documentary photography.
Similar to the way the first 35mm Leica revolutionized photography with a small camera that could be placed in your pocket and shoot pictures quickly back in1925; the iPhone offers an unobtrusive way of capturing images, silently. No flashy gear, loud shutter, or uncomfortable presence.
Recently on assignment in Israel, I was documenting the rarely seen world of Ultra Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. Most of those in these deeply religious communities are hesitant about having their photograph taken to begin with, let alone from an outsider. With my iPhone, the sense of intrusion became irrelevant. I was suddenly able to blend into the crowd and snap away silently and effectively with my little, silent iPhone in hand.
When we consider photography as a medium, does it really matter what equipment you choose to make an image? People often comment on the photographs taken with my iPhone and ask, “What type of camera did you use?” Some are offset and sometimes even offended when I humbly respond, “I shot it with my iPhone”. Why must the equipment a photographer chooses to use matter? Can’t we simply appreciate the images for what they are? Isn’t it the photographer who makes the images, not the camera?
Mobile photography has effectively made anyone with a smart phone a ‘photographer’. An equally exciting change happened on October 6, 2010 when Instagram (http://www.instagram.com) launched on Apple’s popular App Store. Suddenly the ability to share ones mobile photographs instantly with the world became available to everyone. Forget e-mailing, posting to your own blog or sharing images on a photo sharing site or Facebook. Now there was a platform to share your photography with the world. We no longer need the NYtimes, CNN or other publications to “publish” our images. We are effectively our own photo editors with our own global followers that view and comment on our images instantly. Since the release of Instagram and the convenience and accessibility to shoot, edit, and share photographs all within the confines of a mobile phone, other apps like Flickr, EyEem, and Instamatic have adapted to the trend and essentially opened up endless possibilities to photographers.
Photography is a medium and industry that is constantly changing. Photographers also need to constantly change and adapt to be competitive in an ever-changing world. I find it puzzling why more professional photographers aren’t flocking to mediums like the iPhone more rapidly. In a world that is constantly demanding more, faster, cheaper, and with greater efficiency, mobile photography and its accompanying apps seem to be the answer.