by Gavin Seim: Fads always come and go – iPhoneography and mobile device photo exhibitions are no different. There is no iPhonography. There is only photography and whether or not you do it well.
I’m going to be frank. But let me explain the real issue I have. You see don’t hate mobile cameras. But the fact that industry leaders are on the road teaching “mobile photography” as a genre, singing the praises of cell phones being serious pro cameras, and suggesting that using said cheap camera is a “feature” is utterly ridiculous. Lets put aside for a moment the massive lack of quality in mobile images that we examined last month and just consider the fad aspect.
The fad is this ridiculous idea of promoting yourself as something special because you use the lowest quality camera you can find. The phone camera is just a camera. A very cheap one. And yes, it’s what we do with a camera that makes the image. So, we “can” make a artistically great image from a phone. The problem is that it’s rather like making the best sculpture ever carved out of crumbling rock. It’s very limited and it’s going to end up looking like dust next to the David.
Imagine if Michelangelo started carving with a butter knife and presented Butter Knife Chipping as the future of the sculpting world because it was so simple and elementary. What I’m saying is this: The tool used is irrelevant as long as it does the job well – If it fails to do the job well it should be replaced with something that works better.
Now I know that the cellphone camera is NOT going away. Right now it’s a useful point and shoot tool. In time it will likely achieve the quality we had in the compact 35mm point and shoots of the film days and it will likely grow as a legitimate tool for certain situations. It’s not even close yet.
At this stage I have not seen one mobile image with the technical quality I would attribute to a fine print. Oh, we might get an 8×10, and even stretch it a tad further. But it’s the most limited photographic medium I can think of. So limited that if you do get that once in lifetime shot, you can barely do anything with it beyond putting it on the web. And lets not get into the iPhone Time cover. The image was very low on technical quality and likely only made it because of this fad.
For the record, I use my iPhone all the time. I find it quite suitable for snapshots. The question I pose is this: Would a cheap disposable 110 camera from the drugstore (remember those?) be a suitable alternative to a pro system? Of course not. And yet it could arguably give better quality than our phones.
My point here is NOT that you cannot make an image with “artistic merit” from a cheap camera. It’s that an artist who’s serious about their work must go beyond the artistic and consider technical merits and capabilities of his tools. Saying “Look, I’m using a low grade camera!” as a feature in your art is utterly ridiculous beyond a fad. If you’re reading this years after I write it you may be thinking – “did that actually happen?” – The sad truth is, yes it did.
If you make a good image on a mobile that’s fine – And if the quality of mobile device images when you’re reading this is truly enough quality for the product you “want” to sell then fine. But what model camera you made it on is irrelevant unless it offers some game changing improvement, or is being discussed between colleagues.
Someone will want to point to the photographer doing well with mobile images. They may well even be a great photographer. But if they’re to be taken seriously in the long run it won’t be because of the camera they used. Anyone with an art business that relies on the type of brush they use with is doomed to fail in the long haul. In the end what I’m saying is it’s what camera you use as long as you cane make a great image. Whether you did it on a mobile is totally irrelevant unless it causes a technical failure of the resulting image. Mobile photography is NOT a selling point.
We don’t need to learn or teach “mobile photography”. We need to learn, study and teach light. That’s what photography is all about.
I get in trouble for taking this position. But that will pass. This is an industry where just a few years ago quality was demanded and photographers needed at least medium format to be taken seriously in most genres. Now these same artists are out on the road teaching how would be photographers should make their millions with a cell phone? A $10 camera? If that’s not a passing fad, then I guess I’m not a photographer.