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.