Camera phones have undoubtedly changed the world of modern photography for better or worse, depending on who you ask. Photography is now as much about communication as it is about creation. In a medium that was once defined by patience and incredible attention to detail, smartphones have made it possible to create an artistic statement in just a few seconds. And far beyond that, you can share that statement with the world in an instant.
Photographers have been divided on the subject since its inception. Is it better that the camera phone has made photography easier? Is an iPhone photographer a legitimate photographer? But we were most interested, recently, in the intersection of photography and social media. How has the instant gratification cycle—snap, post, count the little hearts, wait for comments—affected modern photography? We asked five photographers to weigh in on the subject.
Richard Hernandez, Assistant Professor of New Media
I might use the analogy of fast food. It’s made our camera roll “fat” with images and our eyes a bit “lazy”. I think there’s something special and photographically valuable about “slow photography”, and of course I would have this old school outlook because it’s part of my photographic experience. There’s something to be said about making an image and not being able to see the result immediately. There is a patience and a mindfulness that comes with that process that I have always found valuable. It also keeps you in the moment and prevents you from stopping the creative flow to instantly check the results, which I find often times stops me from continuing to shoot because I’ve made an immediate judgment that I’ve got the shot and don’t continue to work the situation.
At the same time I understand how that may just sound nostalgic, or wishing for things to be different. I think there’s a valuable lesson for photographers in learning to shoot for extended periods without immediately looking at the results, or instantly uploading to social media platforms. By doing this, you remove your emotional connection to the “experience” of making the photograph and I believe can more properly judge the final photograph with a clearer perspective and fresher vision if you have given the image time to “rest.” This is a very deep and complicated personal issue, certainly, but I also think that, myself included, with the instant access to sharing we also conjoin our image with our ego by uploading the images and judging them based on “likes.” So, not only has the creation process and sharing become accelerated, so has the instant form of public feedback become connected to an image. Less attention or “likes” can often negatively affect a photographer’s motivation.
Anthony Danielle, Co-founder of the Mobile Media Lab
Camera phone photography is still pretty young—the instant gratification/feedback cycle really only began with the rise of Instagram with regards to camera phone photos and it’s a huge part of what makes Instagram such a powerful medium. Speaking for myself, I found that the instant feedback really helped point out my strong and weak points as a photographer. Getting perspective from an outsider on your work is invaluable. This also works two ways because you’re now able to engage with someone else’s work on the other side of the world and learn about what it is that they’re seeing and how they’re viewing the world around them. I found it helped me grow as a photographer by getting that constructive criticism and also giving it.
The fact that everybody’s got a pretty good point and shoot camera in their pocket definitely saturates the market, but the cream always rises to the top. It’s been my experience that if someone can make beautiful photos with a camera phone, they’re most likely going to take the next step to a DSLR camera and grow their portfolio and skill set with a more powerful camera. As more and more people get access to camera phones with better quality, people use it for different purposes: some folks use it to make art, some folks use it to take photos of their food and selfies (both arguably real art forms since the rise of the camera phone). I don’t see the harm in it if it gets that person interested in photography as an artistic outlet. It’s almost cliché to hear that film is dead and I don’t see it as true. I know several people who still shoot film for the challenge of it. It’s certainly a lot easier to get your work out there digitally but if you’ve got the time and resources to shoot analog and you can shoot it well, I don’t think there’s anything lost.
Adeyemi Adegbesan, Photographer
I think the instant feedback cycle affects everybody. Whether you’re a musician or a painter or a photographer it doesn’t matter; the bottom line is, now you can speak directly to your audience whenever and as much as you want. And predictably, this has huge benefits and some harsh consequences as well. Let’s face it: there’s a ton of bad art out there. With photography specifically, everyone is a photographer now, so the online world is flooded with imagery—good, bad and just stuff no one should ever have to look at. But on the flip side, there are way more people actively engaging in photography and I think that’s a good thing. Is the marketplace saturated? Yes.
But here’s the thing—I don’t think that necessarily makes it harder to stand out. I think of it like this: yes, now everyone is a photographer, but this also means that the average person has more interest and appreciation for photography and for good photography in particular. I think some of the things you have to do to stand out have changed but at the end of the day forward thinkers and do it yourself “badasses” are still gonna stand out in the crowd. Simple technical mastery of the craft might have made you stand out 30 years ago. And yeah, that’s probably not gonna cut it anymore (unless you shoot film), but if you master the craft, can bring an original idea to the table and know your way around social media, you’re laughing. And if you look at what cutting edge photographers are creating right now, i’s more exciting than ever. There are so many people taking the art form in new directions. So at the end of the day I think it’s the same as it’s always been: if you wanna be successful as an artist, be original, be yourself, and work until you’re ready to collapse. Then you’ll be in good shape.
Simeon Rusnak, Photographer
Camera phones undoubtedly changed the photographic medium with their ease of use, bettering technology and their seemingly constant companionship. Now more than ever, photos are being taken, viewed and shared as, with the rise of the camera phone has come the rise of social media. Through endless updates comes an endless thirst for new media and I think, as a consequence, the time spent with a single photo has diminished: instead of viewing a photo and taking time with it, we refresh, scroll, look, double-tap, repeat.
In a society where everything is instant, updating and changing, the camera phone makes an apt tool for its user. It is a tool with faults and limitations, but it gives great possibility to anyone who carries a smartphone to scan a scene, capture a moment and develop their photographic eye. This pause (be it one or several) in a day provides, for me at least, a moment to decompose and concentrate on just one thing: the moment.
Jamie Betts, Photographer
Camera phones have changed everything. The amount of photos being taken daily is staggering. With social media and apps like Instagram, everyday photo enthusiasts have become potential marketing tools for major companies. Many companies are messaging Instagram users with huge followings and asking them to promote their products. They send their products to these Instagram photographers, ask them to photograph their product, mention them in their posts and tag appropriately—this is almost free marketing for them.
It’s definitely having an effect on professional photographers. This reality-based marketing and advertising is lowering the value of professional advertising photography, and what professional photographers can charge now. I’m just waiting for the day that I can sell all my professional equipment and shoot with the new full-frame camera phone.