There's still a lot of debate these days about the term "mobile photography" and whether it's really necessary or not. After all ... photography is photography, right? Who really cares about what device you use?
Well, apparently a lot of people do -- but I’m not one of them. All I care about is the final result. When I view an amazing photograph in a gallery, or a magazine, or online, or even on Instagram, I could care less about where it ultimately came from originally. All I care about is whether it moves me or not. I wish everyone else felt the same way as I do, but I know there are a lot of people who are more concerned about the camera or the technique that was used over what the image is actually trying to say, which I find sad.
Nothing frustrates me more than camera "purists" who scoff at anyone who dares to use a mobile device to shoot their images. On the flip side, I'm equally annoyed by people on Instagram who feel the need to put "iPhone only" on their profiles, or who complain when people upload a DSLR image to the app. Seriously, people? That really keeps you up at night?
However, with all of that said, I must confess that I'm a strictly-iPhone photographer, through and through.
I make no apologies for it, and have no plans for the foreseeable future to ever use another camera. Yes, I know I run the risk of being labeled a hypocrite, especially after everything that I just wrote above.
But wait, hear me out. It's not that I have anything against other cameras. I LOVE what people can produce with a Ricoh or a Canon or a Leica or a Hasselblad. (I also love what people can produce with a Kodak disposable or homemade pinhole camera, for that matter). As much of a mobile evangelist as I am, there's no question those other cameras have a lot of advantages that an iPhone just doesn't have … yet. Every camera has its uses, and potential. But I still won't use anything else, not even if I could afford these other cameras, or if someone lent them to me. Why, you ask? Well, it all has to do with something that happened to me 21 years ago.
I had an accident.
I fell off a cliff that was estimated to be about the height of a four-story building and broke my spine. It was pretty major. I was in a rehabilitation center for almost nine months, learning how to basically live again. My initial doctors said I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. Silly doctors! They’re so dramatic sometimes. Fortunately, I was learning how to walk again before I was ultimately out of rehab. But the resulting injury still left me partially paralyzed for the rest of my life (it could have been much worse -- I could easily have died), and to this day I use forearm crutches.
And so photography, as a serious pursuit, was never really something that I thought was going to be a part of my life. It's not because I thought it was impossible due to my condition. I've never been one of those disabled people who are constantly thinking, "I can't do this" or "I can't do that." It’s just that I’m a realist. Just like I knew I’d never be a ballet dancer, I figured I’d never be a photographer either. And that was perfectly OK, because I had other pursuits in mind anyway that were much more plausible.
It’s not that it’s impossible to be a handicapped photographer. There are lots of them in this world -- more than you’d think. There are multiple societies online for photographers of all types of disabilities. It’s quite inspiring, actually. There are people like Christopher Voelker -- a quadriplegic photographer bound to a wheelchair who has shot many famous people and won awards despite his disability. It just shows you that most people can do anything that they set their mind to.
I just never really thought about photography as something I’d do myself. I certainly loved the medium, and had a great fascination with it -- especially of street photography and portraits. I loved looking at pictures of people the most. But I was happy with others creating photographs, and with just being a voracious consumer of images myself.
I have always pursued other creative avenues in my life. From theater, to creative writing, to my lifelong love of comics books (which I made a 12-year career out of), and so much more; the notion that I could create something from my own personal vision, and have others get something out of it, was exciting and addictive. I wanted nothing more than to be a creative individual of some kind for the rest of my life, and to make my mark in the world and be known for something. I just never imagined photography would ever be in the cards.
Besides, I always kind of hated cameras.
Well, hate is a strong word. I was more scared of them. The more expensive “pro” cameras seemed way too complicated. The controls made my head spin. And even if I was willing to learn how to use them, the idea of carrying them around in my condition didn’t sound all that appealing to me. In order to use them, I would need to have them strapped around my neck all the time. When I would walk with my crutches, any camera would most likely bounce back and forth uncomfortably on my chest. That didn’t sound like fun.
There was always the possibility of using an ultrathin point-and-shoot camera, I suppose. But that didn’t seem very “serious” to me. If I was going to pursue a new creative path, I wanted to do it right (I hadn’t yet learned that the camera doesn’t matter). And anyway, those cameras -- even the thinnest ones -- were annoying to carry around too. Even though they fit in jeans, my pockets were already crowded with my cell phone (I had a rather large non-smartphone for the longest time), my wallet and whatever else I was carrying. I didn’t want the extra bulk. And I was always losing or breaking those types of cameras anyway. Photography was just never going to be my thing. And I was fine with that.
But then the iPhone came along. Apple geek that I am, I just had to own the first generation model. However, the camera on that first phone wasn’t all that impressive -- at least at first glance -- so it was mostly ignored. But then the App Store arrived the following year, and I started to see the wonderful images that my husband, photographer Sion Fullana, was producing with his own iPhone 3G (that I had gotten for him as a birthday present).
I started to play around with my own phone’s camera, began to like what I was producing (others did too), and suddenly I was hooked! The rest is history. I’m now on a path to make an actual living as a photographer -- something that seemed completely inconceivable just a few short years ago.
How did that happen?!!
A smartphone, which I was already carrying around and which was always with me, unleashed a new creative side of me that I didn’t even realize was there. Suddenly I was able to physically pursue an artistic outlet that had been closed off to me.
Now I’ll admit carrying an iPhone around in my hand while walking with crutches is still a bit awkward sometimes. I need to have my hand wrapped around the handle of the crutch while grasping onto the device at the same time (usually underneath the handle). But it’s doable, and I do it often. Though the main reason I love it so much is that I can take it out of my pocket and use it very quickly, when I see that “decisive moment” happening before my eyes. And most importantly, I can do it with one hand, while I easily balance myself on a crutch with my other arm.
The type of photography I’m interested in involves people (the same kind I’m interested in viewing). It involves emotions and “moments.” I simply wouldn’t be able to physically take the same kinds of shots as well with a regular camera. To take a bulky device out and try and balance myself, while using two hands to aim and prevent myself from falling down would take too much time and the “moment” would be lost. The whole ordeal would be so frustrating to me that I just wouldn’t bother with it at all.
Smartphone photography has given me a freedom to simply focus on the shot, and not worry about anything else. My own self-inflicted “I’ll never be able to do this” mentality has become moot with the flexibility that the iPhone offers. Maybe that’s why I took to this new pursuit so passionately, and still do -- it’s made me truly “mobile” again.
Before I was shooting with an iPhone I was very much a person who only traveled to places that I needed to be at: Work. Home. A social event. Nothing more. But now, as a photographer, I’m constantly searching for new places to be. I travel to areas in the city with no particular purpose other than to potentially get a few cool shots with my iPhone. Though I had lived in NYC for over a dozen years, there were so many places (complete boroughs even) that I had never been to during all of that time. Now I’ve been to almost all of them, and I’m still looking for new locations to explore. In this way, I’m also more mobile than I ever was before.
I know this feeling isn’t unique to me. Mobile photography has inspired millions of people to suddenly see their world in a completely new way. Most of these people aren’t necessarily trying to pursue an artistic career with their shots -- they’re just sharing the world that they see around them.
And that’s the beauty of it. We’re all a little more mobile now than we were before.
Anton Kawasaki (@anton_in_nyc), has become known for his intimate and candid street portraits, which capture the people of New York in "moments" that express love, despair, humor, and the multitude of emotions that make up daily life. His images have been featured in several magazines and in exhibitions in various cities around the world. He co-teaches a series of online workshops on mobile photography, and is a visual storyteller/mobile photographer for hire. He is also a founding member of the Mobile Photo Group. He currently resides in Brooklyn with his husband Sion Fullana -- a pioneer in the mobile photography movement.