Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment
for the degree of
Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Photography
How have technological advances in mobile phone technology, in
particular the inclusion of digital photographic capabilities impacted on how
we produce, distribute, consume and store photographic images? Are we now born
programmed to see life through a lens?
Table of Contents
Chapter 1- Technological advances in mobile
Chapter Two- Citizen Photojournalism and Amateur
Mobile phone photographers
Chapter Three- Reception of mobile photography
as an art form
After completing a research project in October 2013 involving a class of 14 & 15 year olds, a brief insight into how teenagers see the world around them was made apparent. This project stems from a fieldwork involving a teenager’s use of the mobile phone camera to document the world, which they live in. The participants were set the task to photograph, using their mobile phone camera; images, which they felt best described visually, set chapter headings. The resulting images were then used to produce a book. It was clear by the findings of the research that the project only scraped the surface of the topic, therefore this thesis will investigate further into what the impact the mobile phone camera has had on photography. The images produced were adequate for the brief, but it is the images taken by the participants, which were not related to the set task, which have let me to write this thesis. These images were similar to those typically found on websites such as Flickr or Instagram.
It became apparent from this research project that teenagers (not excluding young adults) are able to see a photographic opportunity much in the same way that a photographer does. The difference being that due to technological advances, the mobile phone user is able to take advantage of said opportunity using the camera built into their phone. This instant photography, which has only been available to affordably buy for less than 30 years, often has little thought/planning involved. The mobile phone photographers do not have to lug around heavy equipment, nor do they have to make a mental note to come back later, hoping that variable conditions such as weather are the same as they remembered. By simply holding up their phone and pressing a button, the scene is captured, and within a few minutes can be
shared via the Internet. This thesis will explore the impact digital cameras, camera phones, tablets and web cams have had on how/why we take personal photographs today.
The successful shift from film to digital has “increased both photographic activity and enthusiasm on the part of photographers, viewers and subjects.” (Van House, 2011) This thesis will investigate the impact that instant photography has had on photography as an artistic medium, and hopefully answer the question, ‘Are we all now born photographers?’
The definition of a photographer, as found in most dictionaries is: ‘a person who
takes a photograph, especially one who practises photography professionally.’ The word Photography can be translated as ‘Painting with light’ also. Therefore, if an image is created using any equipment turning light into a photograph, then the photograph maker may be called a photographer. According to Rubinstein and Sluis “Being in the right place with the right phone is now enough to make you a photojournalist, or give you access to gallery wall space”. (Rubinstein and Sluis 2008, 10)
It could be asked, what have changing photographic technologies done to photography as a subject? Gone are the days where photography was used for science and art alone. A photographer, or those studying the subject need to be highly informed about other industries, such as Medicine, journalism, tourism, law enforcement and even space exploration too, in order to fully understand the subject, when once these industries had very little to do with photography. (Rubinstein and Sluis, 2008, 9) As well as within industry, this thesis will explore personal photography. Nancy A. Van House describes personal photography in her paper for Visual Studies, 2011 as “that in which is done by non-professional for themselves and their friends and intimates”. (2011, 1) It is this personal photography that this thesis will focus upon.
This thesis will discuss the developing technologies, which have caused the mobile phone camera, in particularly the iPhone, to become the most used digital camera according to Flickr. Chapter two looks at the impact that citizen photojournalism has had on the way we report the
news, and where that leaves the professional journalist. The main focus of chapter three is the reception that mobile phone photography receives. Where does it fit into the photography
industry and at what cost.
Chapter 1- Technological
advances in mobile phone photography.
Since the invention of photography in the nineteenth century, photographic equipment has progressed through countless advancements. Kodak was the first to advertise their product to the amateur photographer as something that was easily accessible to hobbyists. In today’s age, there are many companies competing in the same industry, each with a different way of tackling the changes being presented in mobile photographic technology. The increasing development of photographic technology has brought with it an increased enthusiasm for
photography on the whole. The initial outlay cost of the camera is offset by the assumption that most people will have a mobile phone already, plus the need to not purchase rolls of film to
shoot photographs. However, even though digital photography offers its users the ability to share images quickly over the Internet now, it was not always that simple. In the 1990’s when digital technology first became available to the general public, it faced many challenges when it came to image sharing. The process of taking photographs did not differ from its analogue predecessor. Although the photographer had access to instantly view the image they had taken, many of the processes connected to analogue photography remained. The shifts in photographic practises were gradual and relied on the hobbyists and well paid amateurs who could afford to buy computers, scanners and ink jet printers. All of the computer software available was designed with the analogue darkroom in mind, giving the users many of the same functions that a darkroom user would have spent years to master. Going digital was not about purely the purchase of a digital camera. Many analogue photographers chose to purchase flatbed scanners or negative scanners. This gave them the ability to digitise film negatives and older prints, and also to benefit from the computer software’s retouching facilities, restoring them in a way previously unavailable. (Rubinstein and Sluis, 2008)
Although the immediacy of digital photography was alluring to photographers old and new, the limitations for image sharing were frustrating. The Internet in the 1990’s was not as we now know it. Although e-mailing images was practised, it was not without its limitations. Slow Internet speeds, relying on an expensive modem meant that the sender and the viewer were often left frustrated waiting for images to load. The same problems arose when hosting and viewing images on personal websites. (Rubinstein and Sluis, 2008)
It is important to understand the role of technology and the impact it has had on personal photography. A study carried out by Van House et al. investigated the changing patterns of producing photographs by a group of participants over time, some of which were changing over
from film photography, to digital and then on to mobile phone cameras. The study used data collected from the participants’ Flickr streams, a facility open to all Flickr users. Van House et al. discovered that the ease and convenience of digital technologies led to the number and variety of images increasing enormously. “Camera-phones support spontaneous, opportunistic image-making and experimentation”. (Van House, 2011)
There have been many recent developments in the photographic industry. For example, Facebook purchased Instagram for $700M. Instagram is a mobile phone application, which enables users to share images and allows them to add filters to their photographs; (Laurent, December 2012) this demonstrates how popular instant access to technology has become, and that other industries are recognising that mobile phone applications are big business. These applications are only available on the newer technology. During the same period, Kodak, which is a brand name synonymous with traditional photography, declared itself bankrupt and had to reorganise its business model to prevent further decline. (Laurent, December 2012). This is a key example of the changes that have taken place and how companies need to adapt to them: Kodak has now become ‘a lean, world-class, digital imaging and materials science company.’ (Laurent, December 2012).
Kodak’s restructuring is an important example, which illustrates the changes in the photography industry. In February 2012, Kodak had been a known company since the late nineteenth century. They had made photography accessible to those who wanted to make photography their hobby. In 2012, they realised that they needed to improve their profit margins. They felt in order to do this, they would need to move away from digital methods and specialise in traditional techniques. They decided to focus on traditional film and their paper-based business, as well as their professional development laboratories. However, in March of 2012, they had to increase their prices by 15% because of the energy and raw material costs. Five months later, they had to make the decision to sell off their film and paper divisions. Although Kodak still wanted to keep to their traditions, they announced a few months later, that they would also exit the consumer ink jet printing business; they, therefore, stopped producing printers that people could use at home. The emphasis then was on professional photography. Now Kodak is still having difficulties. This shows that Kodak cares about photographers and wanted to
stay true to its roots. However, in a rapidly changing environment, they were forced to sell off parts of their business that made them who they were. (Laurent, December 2012)
The restructuring at Kodak has had a rippling effect on the photography market. This sees photographers, who traditionally use film, being pushed towards the digital market. The rising costs involved in developing rolls of film, as well as printing from a negative, mean that amateur and professional photographers are more likely to make use of digital technology. (Laurent, December 2012)
Digital’s continued success is partly due to companies, such as Nikon, Canon and Sony, but also because of the push from the electronic companies: Apple and Samsung. ‘The iPhone, for example, has become one of the most-used cameras in the world, with sites such as Flickr, a photo-sharing service, reporting that the phone tops all other compact and digital SLR cameras.’ (Laurent, December 2012) This is a phone that encompasses a camera, but it is not solely a camera. When choosing a phone, the camera function is extremely important for most people.
According to Krieger ‘just one goal when they created the phone application: to make mobile phone photography fast, simple and beautiful’ (Laurent, December 2012) However, Dan Heller, a photography analyst, does not feel that Instagram is threatening to more traditional forms of photography. He believes that companies such as Getty Images, which was sold in 2012 to the Carlyle Group for $3.3bn, do not need to be concerned by the rapid increase in popularity of the iPhone and other such mobile photo technology. Jonathan Klein, the CEO of Getty, explained in August 2012 that the company would be expanding internationally. He also said “Many people in the UK think that Getty is an archive. In other countries, people think that Getty just does editorial, or just sports, or stock photography. In fact, we’re the largest global platform
for imagery, full stop.” (Laurent, December 2012) Compared to Kodak, Getty Images seems to be doing well in the volatile economic climate. Getty has managed to keep the same team of
twelve senior positions for over twenty years and their CEO believes that keeping things the same will keep them in good stead for the future whereas Kodak believed that restructuring would benefit them during the economic downturn, but were then forced to sell off aspects of their business to stay afloat. (Laurent, December 2012)
According to Oliver Laurent, Journalist and Acting Deputy Editor for the British Journal of Photography the popularity of smart phones is threatening the compact camera. This in turn has forced the traditional camera makers to rethink their products and in a bid to stay relevant, update their methods of engaging customers. (Laurent, November 2012) Brands such as Nikon and Canon used to dominate the online photo-sharing service Flickr. Professional and
hobbyist photographers who traditionally used DSLR cameras uploaded images. The smartphone had previously only been financially accessible to executives and used primarily as a way of accessing documents on the go for office workers. With the smart phone’s price tag becoming more reasonable to the general public and new mobile phone tariffs attracting younger users, the smart phone camera facility combined with social media accessibility means that almost everyone has a camera in their pocket at all times.
In recent years the Apple iPhone as well as other smartphone manufacturers such as HTC and Samsung, have found themselves at the top of the rankings on Flickr, a website which tracks the camera used to take the photograph, which has been uploaded by accessing the photographs metadata. According to Laurent, the number of fixed-lens cameras sold dropped
by 600,000 between June 2011 and May 2012. The low cost compact camera is in direct competition with the smart phones camera utility, and at the moment they are losing the battle. With the cost of the smartphone becoming increasingly more affordable, the compact camera has been forced to evolve into more than just a camera. This has meant that companies such as Olympus, who produce digital fixed lens cameras, have had to reassess their strategies and offer functions such as wireless internet connectivity to their cameras in a bid to claw back the customers whose main request is to be able to upload their images instantly to the internet and in particular social media websites. Van House said of her study “Participants made more images of daily life and not just special events”. She also found that those who used mobile phones cameras in particular had a camera at hand when something interesting to them happened or when they wanted to make fun images with their friends. (Van House,2011)
Nikon released the S800c in 2012, which is a compact camera (Nikon usually specialise in SLR camera technology). This compact camera is powered by Google’s Android system. This system is more commonly seen in smart phones (which are not released by Apple) and allows users to download applications which help them to quickly share images on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr. (Laurent, November 2012) Jeremy Gilbert, group-marketing manager for Nikon UK said, “There is an expectation to have your computers, tablets and laptop devices all talking together. The future for technology is connectivity” (Laurent, November 2013)
When asked by the British Journal of Photography, both Canon and Nikon denied that their brands were suffering due to the rise in popularity of the smart phone. They both explained that their products (SLR cameras) appealed to a different audience. The cameras on the smart phones are designed to create day-to-day images, with not as much focus on the technical elements of photography. The file size is smaller and, therefore, the images are of a lower standard to those taken on the SLR. The images taken on a smart phone serve a purpose to the person taking the photo. The image is displayed either on their phones and or computers and often uploaded to social media sites where the low resolution is preferred in order to speed up the uploading process. The photographers who choose to use an SLR camera do so because they want to document special occasions and capture big life events with higher quality images. This is something that the smart phone cannot yet achieve. (Laurent, November 2012). Steve Marshall, product marketing director at Canon Europe believed that the fact people are using smart phones to take photographs is a positive thing, as it gets the consumer interested in photography. He states that “The fact that people like to take and share photos is good for the camera manufacturers because, at some point, people will want more than what a camera phone can offer.” (Laurent, November 2013)
The rapid advances made in photographic technology mean that even the amateur photographer needs to have at least a basic knowledge of computers in order to use them successfully. This in turn causes a divide among the youth of today, who are raised often using some form of camera equipment, whether it be a parents mobile phone, ipad/tablet or laptop, from an increasingly young age and the generation who remember living without such technologies.
Chapter Two- Citizen
Photojournalism and Amateur Mobile phone photographers.
Since the introduction of Camera phones in 2001, it has grown in popularity each year, with 1.8 billion being sold in 2012 alone. This means that every civilian has the potential to be a photojournalist. (Van Kesteren, 2013) The camera phone can be used for personal snapshot photography. The snapshot photograph, once an insight into the intimate workings of family life, has altered dramatically over the past 27 years due to the arrival of the first digital camera aimed at the amateur photographer. According to Gye (2007, 279) it is important to understand a little bit about why people choose to take photographs. Gye (2007, 280) argues that there are three reasons: ‘in order to construct personal and group memory; in order to create and maintain social relationships; and for the purposes of self-expression and self-presentation.’ This shows that photographs are an important possession and also a way of developing relationships with others.
What was once a private view from within a family is in this day and age often seen displayed on the personal profile page of an individual, and shared with their extended friends and family. Commonly, websites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo to name a few, allow the users to tag the faces of the people in the photographs. This feature means that the photograph can then be seen by, not only the photographer, but can also be seen by the extended friends and family of the person who is tagged in the picture. This is a long way from the photograph stuck lovingly into the family photo album and shared only with those closest to the family.
Unlike those in the family album, the images uploaded to such websites can be shared for yet more people to see, but can also have messages posted underneath the photograph and comments made about its content.
It is not only the family album, which has been affected by the advances of new photographic technology. With the invention of the camera phone, digital photography is no longer solely for the budding amateur photographer, or the seasoned professional. Now with a flick of a switch anyone can take a photograph, and within seconds that photograph can be shared with anyone the photographer chooses, wherever they are in the world and for multiple purposes. One
purpose is to upload to ‘Photo-sharing’ websites, such as Flickr or Instagram, which have become common places to share images taken using the mobile phone camera. Once uploaded, these images can be categorised by content and are then in turn shared with other site users. Another possibility is that the photograph could be e-mailed/tweeted to a news
team. These avenues provide a platform, which makes it possible for photographers to deliver their photographs into an arena where millions will view them. One of the greatest challenges faced by a professional photojournalist is being in the right place at the right time. It is becoming more and more common that news reporters are using images of events obtained from CCTV footage, as well as photographs e-mailed to them from civilians who have used
their mobile phones to record an event as it is happening.
An advantage for the news teams is that civilian photojournalists do not require payment for the use of their images. As opposed to a professional photographer, who would have a price tag for the use of their image and often restrictions on its use. This does however have
its disadvantages for any photographer. Although there is a ready made audience for the taking, the amateur (and professional) photographers run the risk of not maintaining the control of how their photographs are used, as well as being in competition with millions of
other images flooding cyber space. By posting photographs online, the photographer also allows him or herself to be left open to criticism, for not only the quality of the photograph, but also the content.
The increasing popularity of photography among the general public has caused a shift in how we use photography created using mobile phone cameras for reporting the news. Instead of seeing photographs of the aftermath of an event, for example the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London, we as an audience are presented with blow-by-blow images of the events as they are
happening. This unique insight is only made possible because of the mobile phone camera and the citizens sending the images electronically over the internet to news sources. Such is the public’s ‘need to know’ attitude, that news stations are compelled to air the low-resolution images of events as they are happening. Rubinstein and Sluis discuss the field of photography’s practise shifting from being primarily print-orientated to a transmission-orientated, screen based experience. (Rubinstein and Sluice, 2008, 9) It is because the majority of images now taken using camera phones are taken with the primary intention to be viewed on a small screen, such as a mobile phone, laptop or tablet. This requires that the photograph needn’t be of high resolution, and therefore results in a smaller file size, which is much more manageable for the mobile phones limited storage space.
Although there will always be a place for the documentary photojournalist, it is easy to see why news sources choose to run with the images sent in by the amateur photojournalist. With the birth of twenty-four hour news reports, it is not hard to see that the public want to see what is happening as it is happening. The high resolution images taken by a professional photographer after an event has happened no longer satisfy the public’s need to be kept updated, in a ‘breaking news’ capacity, although they do serve a purpose when documenting aftermath photography. According to Van Kesteren, (2013) ‘With the most problematic part of the job – the on-the-spot news feed – done by amateurs today, the photojournalist can concentrate on the bigger task, which is to work as an autonomous unit, who observes the world from the shadows of unfolding events.’ This suggests that a documentary photographer is able to look at an event rather more objectively, than an amateur who may be swept up in the action of the moment; they can now focus more on investigative journalism. However, if the news media is solely reliant on citizen photojournalists, it can be argued that the narrative aspects of the stories are lost and certain investigative elements left out of the resulting images.
Rubinstein And Sluis also state “The low resolution, pixelated appearance of early camera phone photography and video clips is now an accepted part of the syntax of truthful and authentic reportage in the same way that the grainy black and white photograph once was” (Rubinstein and Sluice, 2008, 11) It does not matter that the equipment used to capture an
image is not of a professional standard, but that it captures the news as it happens.
1. Adam Stacey on the London Underground during the 7th July 2005 terrorist attack
As well as the need to see images of news events literally minutes after they have taken place, there is also another important element to consider. The images being shown are those showing the events from the perspective of the person taking the photograph. They simply photograph truthfully the event as it unfolds in front of them. There are little to no pre-conceived notions or sets of ideals being portrayed. Professional documentary war photographers such
as Adam Ferguson accept that by being embedded into military platoons, their sense of objectivity is reduced resulting in the possibility of them photographing ‘one-side’ of the conflict. Showing images shot by citizen photojournalists from their perspective entices the audience and leaves no doubt in their mind that the images are truly unbiased and without political
connotation. In comparison to the photojournalist who takes the position of the detached observer, the amateur photojournalist is part of the story; therefore encouraging the viewer to
become part of it too. Of course the same cannot be said for news stations, which more often than not do have their own political agenda, although to investigate this further would detract from the focus of this thesis.
2. Prisoner being tortured has become internationally famous, eventually making it onto the cover of The Economist
Some of the most disturbing mobile phone images released into the public domain were those leaked from within the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004. The images were taken on the phone of United States soldiers in charge of the prisoners. The awful images are particularly shocking not only because of the atrocities depicted by those who were meant to be in charge of the prisoners, but because the images were taken on a mobile phone. The fact they were taken using a mobile phone implies that the images were created with the purpose of being shared amongst the other soldiers involved, as a way to further the humiliation of the prisoners. The intimate nature of the mobile snapshot pulls the audience in, making the photographs even harder to view. Although it seems that the photographer had not intended for the photographs to be made visible to the public, they have given a true representation of life for the tortured inmates. A view that a professional photojournalist; would never have had access to.
Edmund Clark, a photographer known for his photographs of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Detention Centre spoke of the images leaked from Abu Ghraib, calling them ‘extraordinary’. He states that the existence and publication of the camera phone images both online and in the
mainstream press will lead to all aspects of war being made public in the future due to the ubiquity of camera phones. (Smyth, Diane, 2011) Due to the widening availability of the mobile phone with on board camera facility, it is hard to imagine a world where such a statement could be argued. However, simply because it is possible to create images of war, using a mobile
phone and then distribute them online, does not mean that it should be accepted as inevitable. There are images, such as those released from Abu Ghraib prison, which serve little to no purpose to the public by seeing them. The before mentioned ‘need to know’ mentality of todays society, does not mean that they need to see images which may cause some viewers distress, or in some cases put a person in danger of harm. By posting images obtained by often unnamed citizen photojournalists, it is possible that the grainy images could lead to someone’s wrongful arrest due to being wrongly ‘identified’, or lead to possible ‘trial by the public’ which is often seen on social media websites such as Facebook, where a manhunt is started and then shared among its users using images uploaded by unknown sources resulting in public hysteria and vigilantism. “The more permeable the borders between citizens’ information and the police, the greater the threat to liberty. If we become too comfortable with the idea of reporting on every imaginable violation or problem, we risk diluting cooperation for more serious problems, overwhelming police resources, and introducing other problems such as invading privacy and unwarranted damage to reputations.” (Marx, G.T., 2013, 56)
Reception of mobile photography as an art form.
This chapter will discuss how professional photographers and galleries have received mobile phone photography and how the average person uses it within their everyday life. As discussed in chapter two, it is well documented that the citizen photojournalist is known for using primarily their camera phone and that it has become socially acceptable that this is the case. However, historically photography as an artistic medium found it difficult to convince art galleries to accept photography for it’s own artistic merit. So within the twenty-first century, has mobile phone photography been able to break into the artistic world? The metaphors of a snap shot are used in the art world by professional photographers such as Nan Goldin and Gerhard Richter to name a few. The increased visibility of amateur photography online, stood side by side with the work of specialist photographers has changed the positions of the photographic
image and that of the snap shot. (Rubinstein and Sluis, 2008 p11) These artists attempt to fill a gap created by the lack of genuine, real life snapshots in the public domain. There are little to no artistic works incorporating the genuine amateur snap shot. There are however professional photographers who have chosen to create a body of work using exclusively the camera built into their mobile phone. For instance in 2009 Joel Sternfeld started documenting city life in the metropolis of Dubai. He chose to use his Apple iPhone as his sole means to capture his images. Sternfeld intended to investigate consumerism as well as capitalism. He also intended to look at the theoretical implications of the increased popularity and use of the mobile phone camera internationally. Sternfeld used the iPhone camera in a bid to move beyond mass-media images of the City that are already wildly available.(FOAM, 2010)
3/4.. Sternfeld, J 2007 idubai series
5. Brown, Michael Christopher ‘The Revolution in Libya’ 2011
Another photographer who chose to use his iPhone instead of a traditional camera is Michael Christopher Brown. Brown released a photo essay on the revolution in Libya in late 2011. (Gray, Richard, The Guardian, 16 November) All of his images were taken using his mobile phone, which enabled him to not only integrate himself with other civilians and not stand out as a photographer, but he was able to capture the events truly as they were happening with no obvious reaction to him taking the photograph. It was almost as if he was never there. Brown has been criticised for his often-heavy use of filters to add a dramatic effect to his images. This effect was achieved using a mobile phone application known as Hipstamatic. Regardless of the use of filters in his images, Brown was able to integrate himself and capture what was happening as it was happening. The fact that he has added filters to his images is not unlike a photographer dodging and burning in the darkroom to add drama to an image. If Brown felt that the image warranted drama that was missing in the original shot, then he is within his rights to add filters if he wishes to.
As well as professional photographers choosing to experiment with the camera phone, galleries are becoming more welcoming to the format. In 2007, the Musée de L’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland hosted an exhibition called ‘We are All Photographers now’. This exhibition was interactive, and relied on the public sending in photographs. This was in response to the photography of ordinary people becoming popular and more visible. This challenges the way such photography is received by the viewer. It was also a response to the rapidly changing world of photography in this digital age. Each week a computer would randomly choose 100 images, from the thousands sent in by the public. The selected images were then printed professionally and shown in the museum for 1 week before being replaced by the next 100 selected. Once the photographs were removed from the wall, they were archived at the museum, and the photographer e-mailed a photograph of their work on show. (Sampson, 2007) Whist reading about this interactive exhibition, it brings to mind ‘The Family of Man’ exhibition, 1955. Although ‘We are All Photographers Now’ did not travel around, the photographs, once submitted were printed and displayed by the exhibition curators with no input from the photographer. The photographer had no input into how, where or when their photographs were displayed, much like those from the 1955 exhibition. In 2007 the Tate invited
the public to contribute a maximum of four photographs to an exhibition called ‘How We Are Now’. The event which was hosted on Flickr.com, ran from May to September 2007 with the intention to choose forty final images from four categories (portrait, landscape, still life and documentary) The aim of the exhibition was to investigate the journey of British photography and to demonstrate the evolving nature of photography in the twenty first century. (How We are Now, 2007)
In 2005 professional photographer Robert Clark, was sponsored by Sony Ericsson, a mobile phone manufacturer, to document his travels around North America using only a Sony Ericsson S710a camera-phone. This was part of a marketing campaign by Sony Ericsson, which also led to an exhibition of all the images taken by Clark in New York and images appearing in American PHOTO Magazine. The public were also given the opportunity to follow Clarks journey online as he travelled across several states. (Sony Ericsson, 2005)
6. Sony Ericsson advertising campaign for the S719a, 2005
It seems apparent from these examples that snapshot photography, as well as images created using a mobile phone camera are accepted into mainstream photographic industries, at least in the most part, images taken by a professional photographer using a mobile phone camera. Images taken by the every day amateur do have a small place within the artistic arena, but for the most part they are restricted to online distribution. This on the whole may not be wholly negative though. With the images created on a mobile phone camera being labelled as ‘low resolution’, the possibilities for distribution are limited to screen based media, or small print sizes. This is inadequate for use in modern day advertising and would not show the image in it’s best light, no matter how spectacular the shot.
For the most part, snapshot photographs are used for documenting personal photographic opportunities. Nancy A. Van House suggests that personal photography falls into four categories or social uses: personal and group memory, relationship creating and maintenance, self-representation and self-expression. “The popular view remains that photographs ‘capture the moment.’ (Van House, 2011, 130) Van House is suggesting that a photograph will preserve memories much more accurately than a humans mind would. Photographs are not however capable of telling a whole truth by themselves. One must also see what is not in the photograph in order to obtain a full understanding of an event depicted in a photograph. In terms of relationships, photographs are a good way of staying connected with friends or relatives by sharing via social media. These can either be of shared occasions where friends and family are ‘tagged’ in them, or as a way of sharing memories with those who live far away. By doing this a relationship is maintained. Further reasons highlighted by Van House in her paper ’Personal photography, digital technologies and the uses of the visual’ for personal photography, was self-representation and self-expression. She suggests that by posting images on to social networking websites, each person is in fact creating the ‘new normal’. When a viewer looks at the timeline of a friend, it not only gives a representation of the person whose timeline it is, but also enables the viewer to relate to the image and feel that they are then able to post similar images themselves. In a way it gives permission to behave in a certain way.
When it comes to self-expression, Van House says “Photography has long been an art practice with relatively low perceived barriers to entry. Digital technologies have reduced those barriers even further.” (2011, 131) To create an aesthetically pleasing photograph is nothing new, but in the context of fine art personal photography is rarely featured. However, it is common in today’s
digital age that an amateur photographer will start off their photographic life using a mobile phone camera before upgrading to a more professional camera later on.
Although photography has never been as popular as it is at the moment, there is a down side to the amateur photographer trying to make the move into the profession in a professional capacity. “With camera phones, taking pictures is experienced as an everyday event.” (Lee, D. Fibreculture Journal, 2005, no. 6) Cyberspace is currently being flooded with images of everything you can imagine, which means that the budding photographer will need to find a unique selling point if they want to stand out from the rest. Images captured on devices, such as the camera phone tend to focus on the everyday, mundane aspects of life. The capturing of the ordinary, if not unique to mobile phone photography, is certainly something that deserves to be mentioned.
With Instagram being one of the leading photo sharing applications around at the moment, it is not alone in its mission to promote amateur photography to an online audience. Another application on the market actually offers the photographer the opportunity to sell their images. The company is called EyeEm, and is based in Berlin and according to the British Journal of Photography’s Oliver Laurent, is a firm competitor to Instagram. Another selling point for EyeEm is that the photographer retains the copyright of the images uploaded, unlike Instagram’s controversial terms and conditions where permission was given to Instagram to use contributors’ images in their own advertisements. (Laurent, O. May 2013) EyeEm’s major
priority is to promote a sense of community amongst its users, as well as to offer a space that is free from advertising where photos can be shared and feedback obtained by other users.
When it comes to professional photographers creating images for screen based viewing, it has been a struggle. Some refuse to be involved in the concept at all, while others are slowly coming around to the idea now that screen resolution capabilities have improved enough to make it worth their while. (Zappaterra, Y. Design Week, 2006) Rachel Wright, creative director at Corbis Mobile says “Creating for the small screen means that you must focus on key design principles-simple compositions and colour combinations that will read at a very small scale and can be converted into multiple aspect ratios”. (Zappaterra, 2006) The idea that an image would need to adapt to varying aspect ratios and formats will have been a big hurdle to overcome for some ‘old school’ photographers, but as the mobile phone wallpaper and screen saver market are big business, it seems foolish to ignore this lucrative business opportunity.
The purpose of this thesis was to investigate whether we are now born, or at least learn early on in life, how to be a photographer. This has led to research into the advances in mobile phone technology, as well as the changes, which have occurred within the photographic industry. This thesis has also looked at the increase in amateur photography, citizen photojournalism and mobile phone photography’s impact on photography as art and it’s acceptance into the gallery space.
From a technological standpoint a major downfall for using a mobile phone as a camera, is that by using this function (also using the MP3 player, FM radio or other accessories built into the phone) the battery life of the mobile phone is considerably shortened therefore
restricting the phones use for it’s primary purpose. This leaves the user with the problem of deciding how they wish to use the limit battery life of the mobile device. Compact digital cameras however, have a much larger capacity battery (If they are rechargeable), or the facility
to purchase standard batteries from any store in a photographic ‘emergency’ situation. Another argument against mobile phone photography offered up by Daniel Rubinstein, is that images obtained from mobile phone cameras are ‘only good to muck about’ and not for professional use. (Rubinstein, 2005: 1) Technology may have advanced greatly since the birth of the digital camera, but battery life, image resolution and storage for large images are still areas which will need to be developed if mobile phone photography is to stand side by side with the Digital SLR cameras of today.
These limitations aside, photography has never been so popular. Mobile phone photography has turned the everyday civilian into a possible photographer, and by doing that a possible citizen photojournalist. Having a camera in built into a device which is kept in the pocket or handbag of the majority of adults, has given every owner the equipment needed to produce a photograph. Of course this doe not mean that the image taken will be fantastic, but it will produce an image all the same. Practice and encouragement/feedback from viewers either online or face-to-face, will help the new amateur photographer improve over time. For an amateur photographer, the mobile phone camera could become a stepping-stone into taking
up photography as a more serious hobby and purchasing more professional equipment. With the News 24 culture of today, citizen photojournalism is an ever-increasing trend. News stations often choose to run with citizens’ uploaded photographs when reporting the news either on television, newspapers or online. Mobile phone footage is the main contributor to citizen photojournalist images because almost every adult has one. This thesis has already discussed examples of well known mobile phone images used to report the news, but there are countless more, such as the 9/11 terror attacks on the USA, natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, and the 2004 Boxing day Tsunami in Indonesia to name a few. Each
of these events were photographed by members of the public, and often uploaded to the internet. This act of uploading images of such events has been described as societies way of not only documenting what has happened, but also as a way of trying to form an understanding of what has happened/is happening. By uploading to websites such as Flickr and connecting with others who were also there, we as a society can begin to understand and to heal.
Within the artistic spectrum photography itself is still in its relative infancy. The question of whether photography was an artistic principle was debated for decades after the first photograph by Joseph Niepce in 1827. It was not until the twentieth century that galleries around the world have only been accepting photographs as a form or artistic expression worthy of gallery wall space. Professional photographers such as Nan Goldin began producing ‘snap shot’ style photographs for public display, which is something not previously associated with personal photography. The idea of personal family photographs being made public has grown immensely with the birth of not only the internet, but also the mobile phone camera.
Van House argues that we are able to see the world photographically, and to observe everyday objects with interest, because we have ready access to image making technology. (Gye, L.
2007, 286) These statements support the idea that we now see the world in the same way in which a photographer does. The more access we are given as a society to image making equipment, the more we see the world and its contents as a photographic opportunity.
In many cases households no longer own a camera that is not integrated into a mobile phone. Photographs are a huge part of our everyday lives, whether it be taking them, or looking at them. We as a society communicate with images in a way that simply was not accessible in the
past. Whether or not the mobile phone camera is used as the primary household camera, the snapshot family photograph has always held an important place in our hearts. When asked which items you would save from a household fire, it is common that after loved ones and pets, photographs would be listed. We as a society rely on photographs to hold/jog our memories of times gone by. Of special events such as birthdays, weddings and holidays, as well as the people we knew or have now lost. In replacement of family albums, computers/hard-drives and mobile phones are used to store our photographs, often with thousands of images stored away. But how often, if at all, are these images looked at? Perhaps after they have been uploaded to your social media site of choice, and perhaps again if you choose to whittle down the images to save space, but then are the images destined to live on that hard-drive unseen?
A common sight when walking around famous museums and art galleries is that of another visitor with a camera held to their face. Galleries often have bans on photographic equipment, but have not been able to restrict the mobile phone from being used. It is not always possible to know whether the user is taking a photograph or sending a text message and therefore at the moment impossible to police. Aside from the security and copyright issues with taking a camera into a gallery or museum, there is also another factor to consider. When walking around photographing the art on display, are we actually seeing what is in front of us with our own eyes? Are we looking for long enough to get the framing right on our camera and then moving on? By doing this can we truly say we have ‘seen’ and appreciated what we have seen? This is a topic worthy of further investigation in the future, but for now it leads us back to the original question and purpose of this thesis. To investigate whether we are now born, or at least learn early on in life, how to be a photographer. The evidence certainly suggests that we are at an early age able to view the world around us with an understanding of how
to photograph it. As new generations are born, their ability to successfully see life from behind a display screen and capture an image grows to the extent that I would answer YES.
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