mobile photography technology, culture and community VII Photo Agency director praises mobile photography

Stephen Mayes, director of VII Photo agency, is pictured with his compact camera. Image: Ron Haviv/VII Photo

The impact of mobile photography in photojournalism is huge. The unassuming cell phone allows images to be captured very privately or in dangerous situations without bringing too much attention to the photographer. This, combined with the ability to send and share photos directly from the device, has photojournalists rethinking how their cell phone fits within their photographic toolbox. spoke to the director of VII photo agency, Stephen Mayes, about the importance of mobile photography in the digital age: Why are we talking about cell phone photography?

Stephen Mayes (SM): I think cell phone photography marks the transforming moment.

The transition from analog to digital photography was a pivot point, but it is a pivot that wasn’t fully recognized in that working with these large DSLR cameras we’ve been able to mimic [analog] photography as we know it.

The cell phone is a pretty pure implementation of the digital phenomenon. How so?

SM: There are theoretical differences between analog and digital, but essentially it comes down to the fixed image and the fluid image. Analog photography is all about the fixed image to the point that fixing is part of the vocabulary. The image doesn’t exist until it is fixed. It can be multiplied, reproduced and put in different contexts but it is still a fixed image. 

The digital image is entirely different; it is completely fluid. You think about dialing up the color balance on the camera, there’s no point at which the image is fixed. That fluidity cascades out from that point – issues of manipulation and adjustments are obvious and rife. More importantly than that, images now live in a digital environment. Given that an image is defined by its context it exists in a perpetually fluid environment in which the context is never fixed. Images’ meanings morph, move and can exist in multiple places and meanings at one time. Fred Ritchin, professor of photography and imaging at NYU describes it as “Quantum imagery.” Digital photography is anything and everything at any single moment; it has contradictory meanings all at once.

What the cell phone does is it takes all the attributes of digital and magnifies them.

Read the rest of the interview at


Total comments: 3

As a tool with qualities like unobtrusive use, the mobile camera has its advantages, no doubt. The devices are getting better by the day, the instant-away feature surely makes documentary images safe from those who don't like to be photographed, but in essence it's clandestine photography, a sort of "hidden camera" usage, which might be regarded as a specialty. Also frowned upon in some situations; some of them possibly dangerous.
The real problems might arise when people become aware that anyone holding a mobile phone is actually able to take photos for some unpredictable application... That's when the cellphone will be regarded the way big DLRs are regarded today.
On the other hand, there are already lots of James Bond cameras in the market: lighter cameras, watch cameras, keyfob cameras, button cameras, glassframe cameras, and who knows, maybe prosthetic-eye cameras as well... So our definition of personal privacy has already been re-written... mostly by the half-literate... ;)

Edited 10 minutes after posting

This makes me think back to the stories about how the Leica M came out, making it possible for great photographers like Capa to photographs without being "seen" with that little Leica camera. Today mobile phones are photographing without been "seen", history repeats it self :-)
But it's like with the mobile phone as it was with the Leica M, it is still things that it can't do. Like long telephoto jobs as animals, sports and so on.

1 upvote

"Man bites dog" and "professional photographer uses DSLR as back up for iphone" is the kind of stuff I like to read. An Apple spokesman said "You will be a(pp)ssimilated, resistance is futile".

Total comments: 3
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