A Mobile Frontier for Photography

One of Seth High's digitally "framed" mobile photos. Note that we did not crop this image.© Seth High

The mobile photo sharing app Instagram has been in the news a fair amount recently, as it announced that it is developing an Android version, and also netted a high-profile user in President Barack Obama. Certainly, some people are skeptical about the merits of cell phone photography, but it's obviously a phenomenon that is here to stay. A couple of days ago, I was talking with my friend Seth High about the way he uses his cell phone for his photography. Seth has been taking pictures for over 20 years, using film and digital in equal measure. He was raving to me about how he was going through each of the different filters in his camera app, and how each setting would force him to shoot photos as if he was learning to photograph for the first time, taking into account the ways that each filter would treat different types of light. Much like using a toy camera, the limitations of each filter forced him to think about composition in a very simple way. It was exciting to hear him talk about how this app had brought him back to his early days of photography.

Neither Seth nor I think that, in the future, all meaningful photographs will be produced on iPhones, but we both agree that it would be foolish to write off cell phone photography. There was quite an uproar when Damien Winter won third place in a photography competition with images that he'd taken on Hipstamatic, another cell phone camera app. Years later, people may see this backlash as a quaint reaction.

There are historical parellels here: Seth mentioned that when Nobuyoshi Araki started using a point and shoot camera to take photographs, everyone in Japan was laughing at him. After all, "serious" photographers were supposed to use heavy, expensive cameras, not cheap ones aimed at the consumer market. Of course, Araki would eventually be proven right. In the same way, you may or may not be moved by the work that's listed on Mashable's "Top 15 Instagram Users," but in time, this work will have its place. Seth's already started to do something different by "framing" his iPhone photos on the walls of digital "galleries."

To be honest, none of photographers on that Mashable list really grabbed me, but look at how many people are following them! Perhaps in this new age of photography, it's not so much "follow the money" as "follow the audience."

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