The Gimmick That Grew Up by Andre H
Sitting here I ponder the relatively new medium of photography, the mobile phone camera. I think of the reactions people have had to the Mobile Photo Awards that continuously shock the world with images that were to many, too good to have been created with smart phone cameras. My thoughts are left considering the impact of the TIME magazine editor’s decisions, and the five photojournalists changing the world by proving how important, how relevant these new forms of cameras are to the world, to storytellers, to us, to everyone, as they reported the effects of Super Storm Sandy in real-time. I think about the skeptics and why they still exist. Why is this tool, this new photographic medium, still scrutinized? Why is it still discredited?
I remember there was a time when the newness of carrying a camera in our pocket, apps that did wonderful things to help expand our creativity, an introduction of a brave new world of photo communities, was exhilarating. New titles and terms for what we were doing were created to help distinguish us further, “iPhoneography,” “mobilephoneography” “streetphoneography” and plethora of other derivatives emphasizing the uniqueness of the mobile movement. These terms meant something to us then. It even meant something to me. We needed them. We had to emphasize that this was photography created with an iPhone. I’m sure many of you, as was I, were faced with the naysayer traditionalists who warned you to put the toy down and shoot with a real camera. And, similarly, we all responded, a feeling in our guts, “no, there’s something to this, something special.” We kept shooting with the our pocket cameras. We felt different, we felt we were helping pave the way each time we proudly said I’m an “iPhoneographer,” or such.
I know many of you love the term iPhoneography, and hold it dearly close, along with all the many other derivatives that have popped up over the last few years to define the mobile movement. But what purpose do these terms serve now as mobile phone photography matures from the angsty teen trying to be different, bucking the system, into an experienced, respected adult? Are they doing more harm than good? Do we really even need them anymore? I say, “no.”
As I type this I consider the relevancy of these terms to our beloved medium. I think back to Cartier Bresson when he bought his first Leica in the late 1920’s. This new medium, the 35mm camera was small, different. It would soon prove to allow photographers to go places and see things never before imagined. Sounding familiar yet? It should. This is exactly what’s been said about smart phone cameras. Anyways, Bresson found no need to label this new medium “leicaography” “decisivemomentography” or even “bressonography.” It was simply just photography. It didn’t need a new term because what mattered was the subject, the moments that were being recorded on the film. The importance of this new medium was defined and quickly led the way to what we would soon come to know as the Golden Age of Photojournalism.
The gimmick that grew up
We’ve seen the proof that smart phones and the mobile photography movement had progressed beyond a fad or a gimmick. We have seen the proof hanging on gallery walls, on the covers of prominent weekly publications, acceptance in the news media, and used by major brands. There are still many skeptics, and naysayers who condemn the mobile movement to a fad that will pass. To a point I agree with their argument when I still see the term “iPhoneography” being used in serious photo circles. There is an honor and respect that must be given to Apple for giving us the iPhone. But in the end, it is only a camera with a phone attached. It did not change the way we think about photography. Apps did that.
Many of you, like myself, have spent a lot of time promoting the mobile phone movement as a serious professional form of photography. This is an interesting time. We are still struggling to elevate the medium to a higher ground, as it balances on the edge of adolescence and adulthood. Outside of the realm of apps, and filters and, “oh boy, everyone’s doing it, how do I stand out now,” we must ask, “what importance do these terms really hold for us now?” What good are they doing? Are we held back by the very idea that we need a term to stroke our own egos and reaffirm our own self-importance in an over-saturated world where everyone claims to be a photographer? Why can’t we just call ourselves photographers? As the mobile phone photo medium matures in the world, the use of kitschy terms such as these only reinforce the critics thorny opinions that mobile phone photography will never amount to anything, and will always be a gimmick.
Ironically, maybe now is the time that we lovingly lay the terms to rest, remove the mask that we’ve been wearing to gain attention, and leave it pressed in the pages of history. Lets look in the mirror to see ourselves for what we really are, storytellers. Photographers. We don’t have to let go of what iPhoneography meant, nor should we forget. But we should realize what we truly are, and what we continue to be. Let the world know that we are no longer that teen with something to prove. We’ve made our point and this new and exciting medium of photography isn’t going anywhere. It’s a force to be reckoned with, and will continue to develop with age. The longer we hold onto these gimmicky terms the longer we will postpone our place at the photographic table, with a voice. We’ll remain the pestering child who’s parent’s tell them to be quiet while the adults are speaking.