Drifting with a mobile phone camera

Last year I presented a paper I had written with a colleague at the International Symposium of Electronic Art on mobile phone photography. A question came up that we have since struggled to answer – how is a mobile phone camera different form other cameras? At first we were attached to the idea that they were profoundly different. Now after a year’s reflection, I am no longer convinced that they are  all that different. What is different is the contexts they allow simply by being there most of the time in a pocket or handbag. After all, they are only tools.

In 2006, I was attending a conference in Waikiki, Hawaii. The morning I was to present my paper I rose and was about to have a shower  when the room started swaying.  It was an earthquake  of 6.5. After the first major aftershock I went down stairs then back up; got dressed and decided to head for the conference despite the tsunami warning at the time. I figured there were enough high rise buildings on the way for me to be safe. No tsunami came and the watch was canceled soon after I arrived at the conference venue. I filmed all the way with my camera phone. I filmed on and off all day. Later I edited the footage into a video art piece which was shown in group exhibition called Australian Gothic in Melbourne, Berlin and Perth. The effect was grainy and had an air of authenticity that disturbed the viewer. Such was my artistic intention. I had used the mobile phone camera  for my creative practice deliberately for the first time.

The resolution in the early phone cameras was low which created curious effects when blown up. My colleague and I were among the first to exhibit mobile phone print photographs in a gallery space – we called the show Order of Magnitude. We took tiny files and blew them up and printed them large. The effects reminded us of paintings and mid format toy cameras such as the Diana and Holga cameras. My photographs in this group exhibition referred to impressionism.  Now of course, this is a bit passe due to the myriad of apps available for iPhones. We made video art as well by blowing up the old .3gp format into large projections. Again we celebrated the artifacts and ‘skin’ as a part of our poetics. So mobile phone cameras became our new tools.

I use my camera often to shoot the mundane. I walk along streets with my phone held at my side, not bothering to frame anything. The screen on my old Nokia made framing difficult in any case. My next Nokia had a better lens. Now I have an iPhone4 with lots of camera apps. But my technique remains the same. The camera sees things I didn’t see and I can have a doubled drifting experience – one while I am engaged in the act and one when I review what I have shot. Perhaps the difference lies not in the camera itself but in its use.


3 thoughts on “Drifting with a mobile phone camera

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Drifting with a mobile phone camera « Marousia -- Topsy.com

  2. Marousia,

    As I touched on before in an earlier discussion with you about the artistic implications, I think you point to several pertinent questions, among which, foremost in my mind, reading this, are :
    a) the change in how we experience time
    b) the question of immediacy and relevance
    c) the nature of process
    d) perception versus form and relational meaning.

    As in literature, the advent of the ‘meta’ -sphere of hypertext begins to alter how we experience and participate in storytelling and its creation in an invented context of place and persona. In photography, this becomes, for me, an experiential transition of time rather than place and with it a changing perception and even expectation of content relevance as opposed to the historical orientation of who took the images, which had as much to do with the stories being told in the images, than digital and mobile photography has today.

    The speed at which this perceptive and physical transition is occurring, leaves much open by way of assessing the nature of ‘artistic process’. This is because of the fundamental shift in how a tool is no longer just a tool, but an experiential catalyser of time and relevance. Immediacy has become a vital form of currency, especially on the web. Uploads and downloads, access and availability, all gear an audience toward a different means of consumerism. Photography used to be a process that was as much about time as about the experience of the image and the resonance it brought to the viewer of the personality of the artistic eye behind the lens. Time as process is no longer relevant, rather the immediacy and ease of access that offers the aspirational potential of the art form to millions of users, who, in turn, can access a world wide audience within seconds, cultivates within and of itself in intrinsic an implicit negative attribution of irrelevance. If you are not constantly trending, uploading new content, you lose audience interest and traction: it becomes a race against time, time qualitatively and quantitatively reduced to a question of visibility. The art and process of taking photographs by mobile phone becomes secondary and with it, threatens to render the art of the form, literally irrelevant and for me ironically, the real dilemma lies in the irony of what by rights should remain an order of magnitude.
    my two cents worth.. 🙂

  3. Very interesting. I usually have my digital camera in my handbag and would use that rather than my camera home as the photo quality is much better. I do love having a phone camera though because I almost always have my phone handy.

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