While I am enamoured with the idea of doing everything on an iDevice, at another level I am uncomfortable. I have such poor small motor coordination and am so ham-handed, why on earth would I be attracted to iPhoneography?
From my earliest days as a young boy in the 1940’s I was fascinated with cameras and photography. I remember my first Kodak box camera and the excitement of picking up my prints at Tamblyn’s Drug Store at the head of my street. I remember vividly the huge Graflex camera that news photographers used. In the 50’s I got my first Argus 35mm camera and in the 60’s I began processing and printing my own black and white images in my basement laundry room. In 2000, I moved to my first digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix 2.1 MP camera and my darkroom has remained dark and unused ever since. I had made the transition from traditional darkroom to photoshop and an inkjet printer.
Now I have made the leap from digital camera to the iPhone and I am beginning the new learning curve of iPhoneography: no camera, no computer, no darkroom. An instant new art form has erupted with exhibitions all over the world, restricted to only images, photographed and processed on an iPhone or iPad.
iPhoneography is as dramatic a technological shift as digital camera photography was to the 1940’s news camera with the big flash gun and the use of replaceable flash bulbs. I remember as a young man using a camera where I had to buy a dozen flash bulbs to use if I wanted flash.
Now I reflect on the comparison of my darkroom photography a mere ten years ago to the iPhone process I am learning now. I have been a black and white Tri-x, film, darkroom photographer all my life until I purchased my first digital camera. Before then I was shooting pictures without knowing what they were going to look like or whether my exposures were correct. I would wait until I got to the darkroom, processing the negatives, waiting till they dry, printing a contact sheet, wait till it dries, examining it with my contact loupe lens, selecting the picture to print, printing a test sheet with different exposure times, enlarging it based on the best timing, running it through the baths. If I rush it, I would on the light after it is in the fix bath the required length of time, and view it when wet, which takes some time to learn to visualize how it will look when it is dried. Presto! At last a print. That was my workflow such a short time ago.
Here is one of my earliest darkroom prints, I call it “Madonna”. Back then, I bulk-loaded my own Tri-X film, processed the negatives in Kodak D-76, and printed this enlargement on Agfa Portriga Rapid paper. Now, in the digital age, with a digital camera and Adobe Photoshop we leap forward centuries technologically. But printed digital images seem to look essentially the same as negative images (with fewer wrinkles and smoother skin).
The leap forward for me was illustrated when I took the negative for my “Madonna” image and had it scanned on a high-speed scanner professionally. I was now able to see it on my computer screen and reprocess and tweak it in Photoshop. I was amazed at the discovery of detail that was not visible to the naked eye nor under the enlarger, but existed in the negative. The increased detail, D-Max and tonal range was startling — richer blacks and purer whites with a wide range in between. Even more startling was having a Giclee print of my new “Madonna” printed on museum-quality watercolour paper. Unfortunately, the lustrous luminous quality of my new print pales by comparison to my original here in this reflection.
But in less than one decade we have taken another giant step forward, both technologically and artistically. iPhoneography is a whole new art form and images taken with an iPhone and processed with dozens of creative apps often look more like contemporary art than they do photographs.
The transformation to iPhoneography is a dream come true. With my iPhone, I have a camera, a computer, my darkroom and framing shop all in the palm of my hand, producing a final print from click to framing in 5 minutes. For me it is a pain to shoot with a camera, and then download the flashcard to the camera. Waiting for the files to transfer (yawn), and only then… begin processing. Do you know how much time is wasted in one’s lifetime waiting for a flashcard to load onto a computer? I can produce three new works of art on an iPhone while I am waiting for the computer to download my photos from my camera.
Now on my iPhone I can shoot my subject, check my exposure as I go along, immediately move into a photo processing app with a click, adjusting saturation, colour balance, sharpness and then I am able to play creatively, transforming an image from a photograph into a piece of abstract art in a few rapid clicks on a variety of apps . What often takes an hour to create one effect on a Mac computer with Photoshop, I can now see a hundred variations of what I am looking for in seconds.
Here are a few samples of my original Madonna negative image treated with iPhone apps like Superimpose, Pixlr-O-Matic and Snapseed. I do not pretend these are yet images I am proud of. They simply demonstrate the kinds of effect that can be achieved through the art of iPhoneography.
What is striking to me is that just in my lifetime there has been this remarkable collapsing of time from click to print, not to mention mobility. From the Graflex Speed Graphic news camera and darkroom of old, to the digital camera and Photoshop, and now, yet again, greater time and mobility change, to the iPhone and all its apps.
But what is more important than the change in time and mobility is the evolution of an entirely new art form . While photography emerged as an new art form in the 1800s, it did not replace traditional art, though it surely dramatically altered art as we know it. Now the iPhone and iphoneography have become yet another new art form, emerging out of photography — not replacing it, but viscerally different from traditional photography. It remains to be seen what impact it will have on the older art form of pure photography.
Jerry Diakiw is a former principal and superintendent with the York Region Board of Education outside Toronto Ontario and currently teaches a course on social justice issues in schools and communities at York University. He has been a lifelong black and white darkroom enthusiast and is a recent convert to iPhoneography.
He has now taken annual solo photo backpacking trips across all the deserts in the world including the Gobi, the Atacama, the Kalahari, the Sahara — three times. Last year, he backpacked from Capetown to Cairo (Toronto Star, “I’m 74 and just backpacked across Africa — alone” ). He recently backpacked from Istanbul through Iran and all the central Asian countries to Kyrgestan and into China.