Friday, 5 August 2011

At War with Hipstamatic

Over the last year or so, there have been a few publicised and even published cases of the iPhone becoming a tool for photojournalism. Just last week the website for the magazine Foreign Policy published a number of stories featuring iPhone photography of Afghanistan by four photojournalists: Teru Kuwayama, Rita Leistner, Omar Mullick and Balazs Gardi. All of the photographs were taken using Hipstamatic: an iPhone photography app.

A couple of questions comes to mind: does it matter what the photographs were taken on? Does the obvious lo-fi photography aesthetic of the Hipstamatic images detract from the story and subjects? There has been quite a bit of criticism from those who believe that the aesthetic style of the photography is too strong and intrusive for photo-journalistic use. Purity of the image. Pure equals truth? Photography as truth has been around as long as photography has existed but it is a misplaced believe. For some reason, some photojournalists seem to believe that their photographs are not influenced aesthetically by their lens choice, angle, focus choice, framing. lighting etc, etc. It's as though photo-journalism has a lead lined get-out clause from photography's more interpretative aspects. The only thing that the iPhone images have is a more obvious stylized aesthetic than their DSLR shot counterparts do.

Obviously the photographers saw some potential in the iPhone photographs they were producing. The idea that they are less worthy because they were taken on a phone is rather missing the point: as is the term 'why not use a real camera' that has been bandied about by a few critics. The creative potential of the mobile phone is impressive. There are benefits to using one. Just yesterday the excellent Duckrabbit blog posted a link to brilliant film shot using a Nokia N8. Does the use of a mobile to make the film any less worthy? No, of course not. On the flip side of the argument are those who believe the mobile phone will completely replace the 'real' camera. There are just so many obvious reasons why that won't happen. The camera is such a flexible and sophisticated tool for a phone to compete with. In the end it comes down to what we (a) can afford and (b) what works for us - be it a Leica M9, a $20 Holga or a shoebox pinhole camera.

The iPhone photos linked in this post are great photographs in their own right. I can think of a number of  photographers who have used the iPhone to create good images and stories in the last year or so. I've even used one myself. There are lots of bad images out there, taken using phones, DSLRs etc, and i have no doubt that the iPhone 'photo style' will be overused and abused to death. Can't that be said for most other photographic formats too though? Does that make all iPhone photography, bad photography? I don't think so.

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