Monday, 19 January 2015

When in (Camera) phone....

When I first started studying photography, mobile phone technology was still relatively primitive. Digital photography was still in its infancy (I learnt on a second hand 35mm film Nikon and dark room processing). Digital cameras were the golden grail of its time, the extra legroom supplement of technology - expensive but you didn't really get that much more for your money.

To think of our lives without digital photography, or indeed, smart phones, is akin to imagining us existing without air.  Digital imaging and mobile technology has become an integral part of how we live - a repercussion of the internet emerging as the centre of modern life.

Smart phones, or rather, camera phones have changed photography as a medium. It has changed the way we take photographs, obviously, but it has changed the way we share our images, the way the media use and publish images, and perhaps most interestingly, the way we even experience our lives.

The first camera phone I ever owned was so poor in quality, it hardly seemed worth taking a picture. The camera phone seemed like a gimmick - a very grainy and small sized pixelated white elephant. The speed in which the technology advanced and progressed was rapid, and moved from flimsy rather anaemic imaging, to serious megapixel business. 

The evolution of the iphone and subsequent smart phones revolutionised mobile technology, and the camera phone was part of this. Suddenly pictures were better quality.  Suddenly these better quality images could be shared via messaging, emails, and uploaded onto the internet quickly and with ease. Suddenly people were carrying cameras on them - at all times. 

I was used to lugging my camera around with me at all times. When I could finally afford my first DSLR, I used to drag the heavy lump around with me all and every day - too scared that I would miss a photo opportunity on my walks to and form work, or out shopping or rambling around. The pain in which I would feel if I saw an abandoned sock, a funny graffitied sign, or any other such random urban decayed bit of delicious weird beauty, and I did NOT have my camera was akin to a form of guilt ridden grief. 
These snippets of random life I stumbled upon were snapshots of seconds that might never be repeated - it was my duty to capture them. If I didn't have my camera, these could be lost forever. But it wasn't doing my shoulders much good, and even I couldn't carry it everywhere.

Suddenly I had a camera on my phone; but a camera that could actually take proper photos. Now I literally had an nonintrusive camera on me always that wouldn't break my back. I now had one lying on the sofa or sat in a doctors waiting room, or stood in the queue at Sainsburys (not that I would use it but still). If I had taken a lot of photographs before, I now developed what I like to call photography tourette's. My image output exploded. It meant I was able to take more random images, in more parts of my life - and this was being repeated for all of us, not just the photography obsessed like myself. 

Camera phones have enabled us to share images instantly, across the internet, across the world in increased levels never seen before. Media publications and broadcasting even display or use images captured on phones in reports on world events. Everyone becomes a reporter, everyone becomes a photographer. 

This all has, in my opinion, helped to change the photographic medium and altered its role in our own existence. Photography is as big as part of our lives than ever before - the ease and accessibility of the camera to us all has resulted in us living our lives more through the lens than actually in it. Such is our obsession with capturing these moments, we become too preoccupied with the process rather than thing itself. It is like being so intent and absorbed with photographing a sunset, we have no recollection of the colours on the real life canvas in front of us itself. Or spending so much time and effort trying to photograph your baby niece's 2nd birthday party, you suddenly realise you were so cut off from the event you may as well have not been there. 

You are behind the lens. You are behind the camera. You are not 'in' the moment. Nothing is more evident with this than the phenomenon of the 'selfie'. I am guilty of this just as much as anyone. Many times I have scolded myself at taking a selfie when I should be watching the sporting match, or concert, or listening to mother (I jest, but the point is there). 

The selfie seems an odd contradiction of purpose. It essentially is inherently a disconnection to the world, and yet you are carrying out something which is attempting to do the very opposite - connect and share an image that shows you being part of something. Look at me! I'm doing this! Although actually you're also not really.

There is no doubt, in my mind, that camera phones are exciting and wonderful things. But we do, and I do especially, need to remember they can also hinder how we engage with things, with moments, with people. Enjoy taking your photos, enjoy sharing them with your family and friends - because this is precisely what it is for. But do not forget to saviour those special moments with your own eyes - let those landscapes seep into your pores and give you a good cleanse; rather than juggling with filters or retaking the shot because your face looks fat. Like the old adage says - everything in moderation. 

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