“The Art of iPhone Photography” by Bob Weil & Nicki Fitz-Gerald.Publisher: Rocky Nook (2013).
For someone who grew up on Kodachrome, Dektol and a Pentax H1-A, reading The Art of iPhone Photography is a pretty mind-blowing experience.Previously biased after spending many years working as a professional and shooting with Nikons and Hasselblads, the idea that just any old yahoo can pull a two hundred dollar phone out of his pocket and snap something that can be commercially viable (like the iPhone photo on the cover of Time magazine in 2012) or even recognized as fine art just didn’t strike me as…right.But, at the risk of echoing The Monkees, I can now enthusiastically say: I’m a believer.As Daria Polichetti correctly points out in the book’s Forward, “Mobile art is not about process or equipment.As is true of any art form, it’s about the artist’s vision.”
The Art of iPhone Photographyis really a series of tutorials by 45 of the world’s leading iPhoneographers (yes, this is now an official term) and divided into two sections, “Photography” and “Illustration and Fine Art,” though in many cases I’m hard-pressed to figure out where “photography” stops and the elements of “illustration” and/or “fine art” kick in (isn’t David Ingraham’s beautifully noir-ish “Rat Race,” for example, at least photo-illustration, if nor fine art?).Each tutorial provides comprehensive details on how a single, final image was created, starting with the initial push of the button and proceeding to specify precisely which apps were employed in post-processing as well as showing the result of adding each individual step to the evolving image.This is fascinating stuff that in each case answers the age-old question “How’d s/he do that?” but just as importantly addresses why an app was used and how it furthered the artist’s vision of what the fully realized final image was meant to look like.
The subject matter tackled by this cross-section of today’s mobile artists is as diverse as their national origins (just over half from the USA, the rest from the UK, Canada, Europe and Asia) and preferred techniques.America’s Doug McNamee, for example, has been highly influenced by the work of Albert Watson and thus “gravitates toward dark, moody, provocative imagery.”His lovely photo titled “Kitava” captures a model whose exotic looks, combined with McNamee’s use of a “hand-applied emulsion look,” are reminiscent of Edward Curtis but with the added element of palpable sensuality.Another Yank, Cecily Caceu, forgoes people altogether in “Long Beach in the Rain,” her stunning picture of a lonely red bike that’s seemingly been abandoned amidst tall grasses, wet pavement and the distant ocean.Using just three apps (some of the book’s included artists use as many as 9!), most notably Pro HDR, Caceu has fashioned a moody, eye-catching homage to the California Coast after the boys of summer have gone.Pushing the iPhone envelope even further is Canada’s MissPixels who, using programs like ScratchCam FX and Diptic, creates evocative and conceptual collages: in this case, “New Car Smell” was inspired by luxury automobiles and fuses dashboard and taillight details with typographic elements to create a finished image that is both vaguely automotive and somewhat mysterious.
Also included inThe Art of iPhone Photography is an inspirational 22-page gallery of additional images produced by the book’s contributing iPhoneographers as well as an Appendix listing all of the apps used in the book (though it would have been helpful if the authors had indicated which ones are free and the price of those requiring payment).
While the fall of the Berlin wall may well be the greatest symbol of freedom in our lifetime, the rollout of the iPhone in June of 2007 represents nothing less than the greatest expansion of democracy for visual artists not just in our lifetime, but all time.The iPhone has not only made cameras ubiquitous, they’ve put the fun back into photography (a la the late and often lamented Polaroid SX-70) as well as made it both possible and practical to carry your digital darkroom with you.The Art of iPhone Photography successfully demonstrates that it ain’t the tool, it’s how you use it (did I just quote Mae West?) and while neither Nikon nor Adobe probably have to worry about smartphones putting them out of business, the iPhone has clearly added an entirely new and exciting dimension to what we consider both “photography” and “art.”