mobile photography technology, culture and community
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Mobile photography: Built on community

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Mobile photographer Brad Puet, who is also a co-founder of We Are Juxt and a member of AMPt, is a firm believer and enthusiastic supporter of the community that developed around the nascent genre. Also a spoken word artist, Puet shares his poetic thoughts, and quotes from fellow artists, in this intimate look at the close community mobile photographers have built.

“The mobile photography and arts community is life in Technicolor. I hold all these little frozen moments in time in my hand every day. I get to experience the thrill of discovery, the pain of loss, or the joy on a child's face as if I was there.  This community of artists pushes me in ways I've never been pushed. To create, to capture, to evoke emotion.  But also to tell my story. To share my own victories and defeats, to be open and bare on a regular basis.   Our lives are a beautiful, living creature and because of mobile photography I am intertwined with people I will never meet face to face.” – Anna Cox, a mother and an artist from Central Kentucky. You can see her on Instagram and EyeEm as @annacox.

The community of mobile photography has broadened how we communicate with one another.  Our interests are now shared with an increasing amount of people, followers or audience (however you choose to define it).  Our reach to others has been extended on a global scale while our interactions have evolved on an emotional scale.  We are able to build relationships, based on support and our common ground.

We are now part of a world in which mobile technology touches almost every aspect of our lives.  Innovative, connected devices have fostered a community of “creatives” who learn, teach and consume the art of mobile photography.  The idea of connectivity is centered in the here and now, helping us interact with people impulsively and instantaneously.

In June of 1997, Philippe Kahn invented the camera phone as we all know it.  The premise for this invention for him – to document and share with family and friends the birth of his daughter – also marked the beginning of the mobile photography community.

“I think from the beginning, the mobile phone camera was created as a way to share immediate, ‘disposable’ images with close friends. I don't think anyone really planned for the App Store and for a bunch of stubborn photographers -- professional and non -- to consistently create these really outstanding pieces of art. It wasn't that photography was new. I think a big part of iPhoneography's early success was that it was the first camera of decent to good quality that was always with you. It was the first good camera that could photograph a scene without really affecting the subject much. Above all, the iPhone was and still is a very personal camera.” – Marty Yawnick, freelance graphic designer from Dallas/Fort Worth, and the editor for Life in LoFi

This burgeoning community has been enthusiastic about sharing their work from the start, first through small, individual blogs and the innovative (at the time) Flickr share site.  The creativity they exhibited with their camera phones was amazing.  There were many people creating stunning images, curating their art on these accounts and building relationships with like-minded creatives. They began to develop the core functions of the mobile photography community: sharing, engaging and consuming images.  From inception, it was about the art, but more importantly about the camaraderie surrounding the art.

Enter social photo-sharing platforms Instagram and EyeEm, and the doors to this small but growing community were opened to the rest of the world.  Sharing became instantaneous, and the community discovered a new addiction to engaging and consuming photographs. Images were uploaded at an astronomical rate.  What once was a slow process of downloading to a desktop, then posting onto a web-based site, became shoot and share immediately. The community began to broaden. There were a million stories being told. 

“Within the rapidly growing community of mobile photography, amateurs and professionals alike, from around the globe, document, share and relate. These communities foster friendships, engender support and facilitate their members to push the boundaries of what mobile photography can be as well as what it can hope to accomplish.” – Matt Coch is a New York-based photographer who goes by the moniker Brooklyn Theory; find him on Instagram and EyeEm under @brooklyntheory.

Exploring the meaning of 'community'

Community means a “unified body of individuals,” says Merriam-Webster. It connotes inclusion and similar beliefs within a collective context. We find ourselves identifying as part of the mobile photography/iPhoneography/Droidography community.

“The most important thing to me is seeing happiness and emotion in a picture. I have missed a lot of that since my mom died.  When I met my husband, I started to see the happiness again. And then my son and daughter were born.  But when I discovered photography especially with them, I just try to capture moments.  Whether they are happy or sad.  Or mad. Whatever emotion it may be. Nothing means more to me than my family.” 
– Melanie de Krassel is a mother from Los Angeles, California.  She found photography through her iPhone and her favorite subject matter are her children. Her work can be seen on Instagram under @mdek.

Community is actually individual-specific, with an individual at the center. You, me and everyone else: we each have our own community.

At first blush, this may sound like a modern, individualistic, self-centered definition of community. For one thing, with this understanding comes the new understanding (for me anyway) that every individual I interact with today is the living, breathing center of their own community. This makes everyone significantly more connected, influential and powerful than they appear (and often know) in their individual forms. Every individual is the center of their own community.

“When I became involved with iPhoneography in February 2010, the community was active, smaller and more ‘underground.’ Then, Instagram hit, and then a lot of the activity moved there--away from Flickr, but it's really hard to say. I know I noticed changes in traffic patterns for where people were spending their time as informally measured by comments, not just image sharing. Also, as Instagram became popular, more people were coming to Facebook to share photos. This was a big shift.” – Star Rush is a documentary and street photographer, writer, and educator from Seattle, WA.  She is a member of the Mobile Photo Group and is editor of Lys Foto Magazine.

We are living in a time when most of us are so flooded with imagery and information as individuals that we have no idea which end is up many days. This can cause us to over-rely on the published ideas of distant experts and to undervalue those we’re directly connected to as well as our individual selves. Sure there are technical aspects that we can learn from others.  Sure there are new discoveries that can help us hone our craft.  In the context of community, we all have a stake and a contribution to make. 

“One great thing about the Internet and the instant sharing of images has been the incredibly rapid evolution of the medium. I mean, you look at the work from early 2010, to what is being done today and it is simply incredible. It has been a joy to observe, and very interesting to be part of.” – Knox Bronson, artist and musician. He also curates P1xels: The Art of the iPhone.

We are so much more than we can know we are or be as individuals. Community wraps us in the surprise and delight we need to laugh, play, relax and to come to know more of our whole, true, beautiful selves. This hasn’t changed since the word community was first spoken, because this doesn’t need to change.

I think that’s why community persists and why it will continue to persist, despite our precarious piles of individual fears.

“The mobile photography community, to me, has become an essential part of my creative process. I don't know where I'd be as an artist if there wasn't one, I've learned so much from others I’ve met along the way in this game that has helped mold me into the photographer I am. It's really cool to have found so many people who share the same interest through a cell phone app, kind of crazy when you think about it and how far the technology has come. I'm curious to see where all this will take us in the next few years, we're already off to a good start and I'm honored and proud to be a part of it.” – Mike Hill, mobile photographer originally from New Orleans, Louisana. His work can be seen across all networks under @frankensinatra.

Community is who we are. It’s why we last. It's always with us, like the found, smooth and treasured stones in my jacket pockets that show up to surprise and delight me again and again.

My stones have names. Your stones have names.

These stones provide us friendship, mentorship and inspiration. They provide us a glimpse of humanity through a technological window.

We develop these relationships on behalf of a community that loves to create, learn, share and connect.  We are touched by all these stones on the basic human level.  I hold mine close to me, in my pocket, and get excited when they share with me the joys, the heartache, and the humor of their daily lives.

How can I even quantify how they participate in my definition of community?

That’s just how we roll. 

That’s community.

“The community and the sharing are key answers in my idea of being ‘connected’ worldwide. You grow your passion looking at a billion of photographs everyday, and that is the biggest silent, hidden change for me.  More ideas, more interactions, more self-confidence. Your passion grows. Your addiction to the ‘art’ grows. Your ‘eye’ begins to see what was hidden before.” – Alessio Castaldo, photographer from San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy.  He is an advocate for mobile photography and is part of The Minimals, which seeks the use of fundamentals in the mobile genre.  His work can be seen on Instagram, EyeEm, Starmatic and Streamzoo under @aleesio.

Brad Puet (known as BP across many networks and as @bradpuet) found creative expression through photography by way of his mobile phone. By day he is a director of a human services program in Seattle. He also has a long history of organizing many grassroots organizations and is a co-founder of two arts organizations in Seattle, one focused on cultural arts and the other with youth. BP has lived in Seattle for 25 years and is always trying to document its rich history through art. He believes that art is the vehicle for change in society.

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